As the affably larcenous and willing-to-please foil to Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jeff Garlin
has it easier than just about anybody on the show, usually having to do little more than spread his arms and protest with a baffled "Whaaat?!" or "Come ahn!" to get a laugh. David panics, Garlin gripes; it's a good mix. What works well for a sidekick, of course, is usually night and day from what works for a lead. This issue crops up repeatedly in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, directed, written by, and starring Garlin, who ambles the streets of Chicago, bouncing from rejection to odd (but funny) scenario to rejection again with the same resigned air. The laughs come, but with hardly anybody able to get a rise out of this guy, they're more like quiet chuckles when they could be explosive.
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With is a genial piece of work that is not much more than a sequence of barely-connected riffs. This should be perfectly fine for most people watching, as the majority of the riffs star good people who seem perfectly happy to hang out and improv some well-calibrated chaos with Garlin. He plays 39-year-old James, a Chicago comic who’s still living with his mom and eking out an existence as an improv comic and occasional actor. With no girlfriend and having just lost out a part in a remake of Marty to Aaron Carter, James moons about the city in a lovelorn fashion and suffers through a series of low-level professional and romantic humiliations. These stages of plot exist not so much to illustrate James' dark night of the soul as to provide stages for the high-grade performers Garlin talked into coming out to play. Second City notables like Bonnie Hunt
, Dan Castellaneta
, and Tim Kazurinsky
are given pride of place, and there are good turns from Richard Kind and Roger Bart -- though the cameo rotation gets excessive with one scene in particular that's obviously jammed in there just to give Amy Sedaris
a reason to show up. Article continues below
Like all the improv greats, Garlin is able to milk an impressive batch of comedy out of thin material, and he gets pretty far on not much. The closest thing to a real story here is a spotty and masochistic relationship with an ice cream shop worker played by Sarah Silverman
, who as usual is able to mask breathtaking cruelty with a cute little grin. Most of the rest of the time, James is walking around the city and chatting with his random encounters in a manner that lets native-son Garlin show off the city (and just not its filmed-to-death tourist highlights, a la The Break-Up) as few other hometown filmmakers are able to do.
While Garlin's film, which wraps its scattershot comic romance in a sincere love letter to Chicago and its improv comedy scene, gets a respectable number of laughs out of its barely visible premise, and is hardly the vanity project that might have been expected, it never stretches itself, either. Good improv plays on the familiar, while great improv stuns and bewilders audiences with the unexpected; I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With is only good, which should be less disappointing than it is.