Review by Jacquelin Hipes
“Shot on Kodak Motion Picture Film”: it’s not a vanity card you see often at the movies nowadays. Whether a choice grounded in aesthetics or budget, it serves as apt foreshadowing of the quirky-cute attitude on display throughout Mr. Roosevelt. Writer-director Noël Wells stars as Emily, a struggling comedienne who moved to Los Angeles, leaving behind her boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) and their cat in search of the mythical big break. Two years later Emily is still struggling and Eric is now her ex. When he calls to warn that the presidential feline might not have long to live she catches the next flight to Austin. Once there, the bad news comes in a deluge: Mr. Roosevelt has died, Eric has a new girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower), and the two of them live in the house she used to share with him.
Celeste’s perpetually tranquil outlook and composure only salt the wound. Invited to stay in the guest room until Mr. Roosevelt’s ashes are ready, Emily takes a few more steps deeper into the picturesque new life her ex now inhabits. The entire home is an homage to the copper, white, and millennial pink palette popularized by Instagram and Pinterest. Celeste always looks effortlessly chic in a minimalist wardrobe whose simplicity surely comes at great expense. Eric, to her shock, fits in well. He’s given up his graphic tees and his guitar sits abandoned in the backyard shed; dreams of a successful band permanently roost on the backburner, superseded by the need for a “real” career.
Once Emily takes up temporary residence with Eric and Celeste some customary hijinks ensue, most of them still funny in spite of their expectedness. Beneath the situational humor of two exes thrown together, however, beats a sincere heart. Two years is ample time for a person to grow and change. Watching Emily come to terms with how different yet familiar her former beau feels, alongside with the stagnant inertia of her own life, reflects one of the painful lessons of early adulthood. These changes don’t invalidate either Eric’s past or present self: the two are simply different. Ms. Wells draws out a brash self-centeredness in Emily that slowly emerges in subtler ways from her two co-stars. As Eric, Mr. Thune acquits himself nicely, but it’s Ms. Lower’s Celeste that sparks the most interest. Her warm demeanor toes the line between sincerity and saccharine put-on, finally settling into a realistic middle ground that elevates her well above the stereotypical replacement harpy.
While far from the focus of the plot, from time to time Mr. Roosevelt will glance over slyly at the hand-wringing over the changes in Austin in recent years. Emily embodies the classic feel of the city, weird and proud of it; Celeste and her friends favor the “new Austin”, trendy in a safe sort of way. Neither one of these is necessarily right nor best, a conclusion supported on both personal and broader levels.
The impetus for Mr. Roosevelt’s plot might lie in the death of a pet, but film does not focus on grief. Instead it zeroes in on the lurching changes of early adulthood, whatever their impetus may be. It can be a period of uncertainty and insecurity where even the most put-together are winging it more often than they’d have you think. None of us escape this life alive—even those blessed with nine lives. Mr. Roosevelt shows us that stasis and change can be good in their own way, so long as either is approached with a little kindness and a hearty dose of humor.