The Baxter (2005) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual humor, language and some drug references
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux, Michael Ian Black, Paul Rudd, Zak Orth, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Peter Dinklage
Director: Michael Showalter

Screenplay: Michael Showalter
Review published December 18, 2005

Something you don't see every day -- a smart romantic comedy.  Writer-director-star Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) attempts to turn the romantic comedy formula on its ear with The Baxter, a film that tells the story from the point of view of the poor schlep that typical romantic comedies usually leave stranded at the altar, while the bride-to-be runs off with the handsome leading male. 

A "baxter", as defined by the movie, is a guy that women will settle for when they can't be with the one they truly love.  In this film, that man happens to be Elliott (Showalter), a nerdy accountant that gets stranded at the beginning of this film by his beautiful fiancé, Caroline (Banks, The 40 year Old Virgin), for handsome and adventurous Bradley (Theroux, Duplex).  We soon flash back to where it all began, learning how hapless Elliott met the alluring Caroline, the events that led to their proposed marriage, and also those that led to its undoing. 

Despite the fact that The Baxter proposes to be a sort of refreshing anti-romance for those that have ever been dumped before, it still falls into very predictable patterns as it goes along, especially as we're introduced to the cute, but similarly square, temp in Elliott's office, Cecil Mills (Williams, Imaginary Heroes).  Since we already are shown the ending at the beginning of the film, and we can easily guess the real ending after the ending, there is an inherent lack of genuine suspense that would help truly enthrall us with the story to find out just what happens to whom and why.  In the end, despite the unique pattern in the mind of its creator, The Baxter is still cut from the same cloth of the many romantic comedies that Showalter determines to undo.  You still have to like romantic comedies to properly enjoy this one.

However, for the oft-tread genre it is in, The Baxter shows that there are still angles that haven't quite been explored, and with some fresh writing and likeable characterizations, an entertaining film may still be had.  Showalter assembles a good cast of character actors to surround himself with, and he also keeps the tone light and amiable.  Other directors may have attempted to go for sticky emotional scenes, a la Wedding Crashers, to make their point, but Showalter, here in his feature-length directorial debut, has a maturity to suggest he could become a solid comedy director, if he so chooses to take that path in the future.

The Baxter, despite some modern-day aspects, is an old-fashioned romance, full of dreamers and well-intentioned people, and it makes no bones about being unabashedly, and intentionally, corny at times.  While the destination may never be in doubt, this dessert film is definitely clever and enjoyable enough in its journey that you probably won't mind.  If you're in the mood for a charming romantic comedy of a different sort, The Baxter won't leave you stranded.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo