By Don Simpson | August 18, 2010
Director: Sol Tryon
Writer: Peter Kline, Mike O’Connell
Starring: Mike O’Connell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jim Gaffigan
K. Roth Binew (Mike O’Connell) is a flamboyant, arrogant and eccentric drunk whose incessant pontifications – made in an exaggeratedly aristocratic accent – are scribbled down verbatim by his loyal best friend, authorized biographer, and rickshaw-cum-pedicab chauffeur, Mills (Jesse Eisenberg). (Mills is also a poet extraordinaire.) The Living Wake opens with a Cliff Notes montage of K. Roth’s life of failure which wraps up with the life-changing declaration by his doctor that K. Roth is dying of a nameless disease. That’s right kids – K. Roth is dying prematurely, foolishly and namelessly.
The narrative itself commences in the morning of the very day that K. Roth’s life is set to expire (at 7:30pm). K. Roth and Mills scuttle across town on their makeshift rickshaw-cum-pedicab arranging the last-minute preparations for K. Roth’s death, which includes: inviting people to K. Roth’s “living wake” (which is in itself eerily similar to Get Low); making arrangements for K. Roth’s Viking burial ceremony; donating K. Roth’s yet-to-be-appreciated literary cannon to the local library’s collection; stealing and sacrificing a goat; reuniting with his greatest love, his elderly nanny; visiting a psychic; and making amends with his mother and brother. All the while, K. Roth hopes that he will finally hear the “brief, but powerful monologue” that his long-missing father (Jim Gaffigan) promised to recite to him many years ago.
K. Roth’s lost-in-time bearded and suited oddball buffoonery turns from self-pity to manic glee on a dime in this relentless barrage of hit-or-miss gags and unrestrained ridiculosity. The quirk and whimsy levels are amped up so high that the audience will most certainly require a nonsense-to-English dictionary in order to decipher K. Roth’s very long word problem of life.
Produced and directed by Sol Tryon, The Living Wake is a very unconventional comedy that finds itself devoid of any believable or identifiable characters. There is nothing at all that grounds this narrative in reality and I suspect that Jesse Eisenberg’s fan base, from films such as Adventureland and Zombieland, will not accept Tryon’s land of zany tomfoolery. That said – it is very important to point out that The Living Wake was shot in November 2005, six months before he shot The Education of Charlie Banks and years before Eisenberg became a star (at least to those who didn’t notice his talent much earlier in his career, like in his brilliant supporting roles in Roger Dodger or The Squid and the Whale); and The Living Wake received limited theatrical release several years later (in May 2010) most likely banking on Eisenberg’s newfound stardom. Sure The Living Wake is a surreal circus showcasing just how quirky and crazy O’Connell can be, but Eisenberg is absolutely fantastic as the straight (or as straight as they come in this flick) man. More than anything, The Living Wake provides proof that Eisenberg does have range and he’s not afraid to operate outside of the box of conventional Hollywood cinema.