11/09/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

AFI Fest Review: Somebody Up There Likes Me

Somebody Up There Likes Me is a caustic exploration of youth, relationships and death. Bob Byington writes and directs an anti-coming-of-age story that plays out like a deadpan Woody Allen movie with Asperger's.

The movie left me wondering about the mysteries of our tiny existence so much so that after missing a screening of a different movie, I went to see it a second time. This modern, misanthropic portrait proves that criticism is pointless (and perhaps life altogether is pointless, as well). There was a constant commentary track of producers and critics in my head throughout the entire movie saying, "You should not do that." Or, "That should not work." There is no should in filmmaking, as there is no should in life. Many things are said to be mistakes because they are against convention. Despite what certain people will tell you, it is clear that Bob Byington made the movie he wanted to make, and that is a rare treat. In some strange way, the movie is uplifting. The message is live your life, for all its trivial beauty and insignificant happiness.


Nick Offerman and Keith Poulson in "Somebody Up There Likes Me" distributed by Tribeca Film.

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film.

For such a silly little film, Bob Byington says so much. Running at about 76 minutes, it seems as if nearly every line has a deeper meaning. Everything in this movie is understated: the performances, the comedy and the spiderweb of themes. There is a unifying numbness that speaks to a greater truth about life, seldom expressed in cinema. Its characters seem unaware of their mortality to some extent, just drifting through a simple, insipid universe of decisions and consequence. They speak about their lives as spectators, and, as the title implies, they, themselves, are being watched. It is films like these that keep audiences watching and make young people interested in making movies.

Upon second viewing, intricacies are revealed that work to cleverly connect the film to its opening and closing moments. Similar to a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or It's a Wonderful Life, there are all of these hidden hints and wonderful little moments of revelation. This special fable creates a feeling of anesthesia with an underlying current of rhapsody. The witty writing, the whimsical animated sequences, the tonal acting and Chris Baio's mellow, yet upbeat, score come together under the conducting hand of Byington to create simple symphony of what life often feels like.