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Leaving the Multiplex Behind

Movie Review: ANSWER THIS! (2012)

Posted by Jonathan Sullivan on January 16, 2012

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and smoking

Starring: Christopher Gorham, Arielle Kebbel, Nelson Franklin, Kip Pardue

Written and Directed by: Christopher Farah

Distributed by: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Buy Answer This! on DVD

Rent Answer This! on Amazon Instant

Although Answer This! is very predictable, following the story beats of both genres it mashes together almost to a tee, it’s still worth watching thanks to its strong cast and more importantly its relatability and resonance.

Shot on location at the University of Michigan (which they take full, and sometimes suffocating, advantage of), Answer This! stars Christopher Gorham as the listless Paul Tarson, a graduate student nearing 30 who lives under the shadow of his superstar professor father Dr. Elliot Tarson (played by real U of M teacher Ralph Williams). Instead of finishing his graduate work and moving on to the next stage of his life, Paul has been content to stall and coast on autopilot, trading in academics for the competitive world of bar trivia alongside best friend James Koogly (Nelson Franklin). When a citywide trivia tournament is announced, Paul sees this as an opportunity to succeed at something he wants instead of something his father wants for him (his thesis will lead him into the same work as his father) and he and James enter alongside his grade school friend Izzy Dasselway (Evan Jones), an unusual and off-kilter man who goes by the nickname “Ice” and is brought in to answer the sports questions the other two can’t. While all of this is going on, Paul also begins a fling with freshman Naomi (Arielle Kebbel) and butts heads with hotshot foreign T.A. Lucas Branstromm (Kip Pardue, making his second appearance on this site). The craziness of Paul’s life eventually comes to a head and through these experiences begins to finally grow up…a few years after he should have.

Answer This! is undoubtedly a very personal movie for writer/director Christopher Farah and has that feel through out, especially in the loving way he portrays both the University of Michigan and the town of Ann Arbor that it’s based in. It’s very similar to the way Woody Allen and other filmmakers practically orgasm over New York City, which is both endearing and at times suffocating (part of the time it feels like Farah is yelling “ANN ARBOR RULES YOU GUYS, COME ON!”).

For his passion project, Farah has assembled a great cast that fill their roles effectively. Gorham is inherently likable and makes the character of Paul endearing even when he does some not so bright things. Franklin, whom you may remember from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and as the star of Fox’s short-lived TV show Traffic Light (underrated), turns in another great supporting performance and his method of awkward humor leads to some of the quietest but funniest moments of the whole movie. Jones, as the psychopathic Ice, has some tremendous if too showy moments especially his introduction to James which is intense but hilarious. Pardue has a natural villain look to him, and his cocky Swede character competently fills the antagonist role (the accent does get awkward here and there, but nothing that destroys the performance). Kebbel essentially plays a manic pixie dream girl in Naomi but she’s adorable and makes it easy to see why Paul would fall for her despite the age difference (an age difference that may turn off some conservative viewers). Chris Parnell even shows up in a small role as the MC of the trivia tournament, and he’s dependably funny.

Answer This! is a movie that most 20-somethings can definitely relate to. The character of Paul is on a journey most of us have gone through: figuring out what to do with his life, being too afraid to try new things or even leave his hometown, looking for happiness in even the smaller more insignificant moments of his life. His story arc reminded me of both me and the plight of many of my friends and it got me into the movie even more so than I would have been otherwise.

If there’s anything truly wrong with Answer This!, it’s how predictable it ends up being. The movie essentially mixes both the underdog sports plot and the coming of age story into one and as the movie soldiers on it doesn’t deviate from the established story beats of either genre. At all. This adherence to established tropes keeps Answer This! from being as good as it could have been, making it come off far more generic than it deserves. With something this relatable, it was a bit disheartening that I correctly predicted how each story turned out twenty minutes in. There are also some jokes that don’t hit and some dialogue that doesn’t jive too well or sound natural. And while Ralph Williams does get a bit of a pass for it being his film debut, his lack of experience sticks out like a sore thumb (except his teaching scenes, which I’m sure mirror how he approaches his real-life profession anyway).

But on the whole, Answer This! is an enjoyable watch. Its predictability and gushing lust for Ann Arbor do hinder the overall enjoyment (and may drive some viewers crazy), but a tremendous cast and a story that will resonate with a good chunk of 20 somethings stuck in a rut it definitely succeeds.

Grade: B-

Buy Answer This! on DVD

Rent Answer This! on Amazon Instant

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