Review by Justin Goodman
Buddymoon is the standard comedic team-up of “straight man” and wacky, well-meaning sidekick propelled on an adventure that is strange and filled with male bonding. This isn’t necessarily to its disadvantage. I Love You, Man was the epitome of a successful bromantic comedy. And since the Flula and David’s adventure is also underlined by passages from the journals of William Clark, of Lewis & Clark fame, perhaps the first bromance narrative, it should have a lot going for it. What it has in parallelism it lacks in distinguishing features though, such that the Paul Rudd-ish David Giuntoli and the cartoonish Flula Borg’s routines are less landmarks on a guided journey than mild ways to break-up a monotony of hiking montages. What could have been “like heaven but with little trees,” in Flula’s words, becomes a lightweight buddy comedy that doesn’t deeply explore companionship or humor.
David Zara (David Giuntoli) is an actor, famous for a childhood role in the show Little Genius. He, naturally, hates this. Much how Gary Coleman must have hated having “what you talkin’ ‘bout Willis” shouted at him, David has the misfortune of having a catchphrase quoted at him that wasn’t even his own. His friend, Flula, is a German-born DJ (played by real-world on Flula Borg) who David met in a bar while “soul searching.” After David’s fiancé gets cold feet, taking all the furniture, leaving him the rosé to smother his sorrows in, Flula drives to be by his side. When he arrives–in what will be the first of many sight gags lacking any explanation for why they’re funny–Flula is wearing what amounts to a discount version of the Jimmy Dean commercial sun outfit. After probing David and learning that the couple’s original honeymoon nature hike wasn’t canceled, Flula presses David to go with him with references to Rudy and its classic finale chant.
The debuting director, Alex Simmons, and the writers (Simmons, Giuntoli, and Borg) clearly had fun making Buddymoon. The energy they emit even in walking, Giuntoli heavy-footed stomp and Borg’s animated jauntiness, are promising. After the fourth of fifth eventless montage, however, you realize how few venues for this energy’s direction there are. It’s bundled so tightly that when released in the film’s two slo-mo dance montages–one drunk on wine, one high on shrooms–it’s oddly tame, seemingly beaten into submission by the boredom of the hike. This is only partly attributable to its surprisingly short runtime of 78 minutes. It might make a rush, but even short films–hell, la jetée was 30 minutes of still frames–can have richness. No, Buddymoon suffers from what games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 suffer from. A terminal lack of exciting content in a world rich in possibilities. Lewis & Clark monologues, unfortunately, cannot develop David and Flula by themselves.
All this creates a film that is always ahead of where it wants to be, unwilling to explore the rich territory surrounding it while failing to see the leaves for the trees. It’s like a misguided naturalist who forgets that communing with nature is never just escaping from civilization, but, as Thoreau displayed in his stay at Walden, a time of meditation on our woes in the face of it. Besides the occasional cut to a Malickian close-up of David’s fiancé (Jeanne Syquia), there’s no thoughtfulness in his sadness; the one time something else drives his anger–his legacy as Little Genius, ironic, since no one recalls him in it–it’s quickly directed towards the climax and resolution of David and Flula’s friendship, solidifying what was opaque to begin with. Flula, for his part, is nothing short of saintly in his willingness to forgive and a depthless emotional insight. Like a Shakespearean fool, he sees no wrong despite being seen as wrong. He’s also entirely deprived, to this end, of anything resembling character. He’s scenery, like the trees.
And whereas supporting characters often drive a movie along–what would Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure be without Lincoln or Beethoven–by comparison, Buddymoon fails to create anything but a blandly paranoid nutjob (Brian T. Finney) who gives them the shrooms they later consume, and a generic female object of attraction (Claire Coffee). They have no life, and are so removed from anything substantially human that they might as well have been pushed onto the scene via dolly by a stagehand. There is no attempt, even, of fitting these anonymous figures into the Lewis & Clark outline; it makes the entire pretext of carrying on a tradition of male bonding empty. In fact, what made I Love You, Man effective as a brom-com was the counterpoint of male and female attachment. Buddymoon misses the obvious opportunity for a Sacajawea of its own. At most it nods to them by David’s audition for a role as William Clark in a biopic, and obtuse moral tongue-wagging over Clark’s unwillingness to let his slave, York, free after the journey. This exists only as an opportunity for another, admittedly funny, joke of Flula mistaking Lewis & Clark for Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
By the end of the film, the journal entries are forgotten as Lewis & Clark are replaced by these comic book figures. Symbolic, if ever anything was symbolic. Had it been pegged as any other buddy comedy, Buddymoon would easily be relegated to simple and middling. Unfortunately, it started from a fantastic premise. As Fallout 4 fans are aware–as any fan expectant for any sequel–creating increased expectations will only create eyes keener on dissecting your failures. Which isn’t to say that Simmons, Giuntoli, and Borg shouldn’t have tried. Had they given it more time, perhaps, and a steadier treatment of the heritage of male bonding, it might have become something other than what it became. What is became was something like sleepaway camp, where there are no consequences to your actions, and where you can set aside all the world’s woes, including your own, for the brief respite of forgetting yourself in the woods.