Multiple Sarcasms

By Michael T. Dennis

In the new independent drama “Multiple Sarcasms,” a man searches for meaning in his seemingly ideal life. This has been the premise of many fine films but “Multiple Sarcasms” is not among them. The film severs significant ties between the audience and the characters to the point where we don't much care about their lives.
Timothy Hutton plays Gabriel, a successful architect at a small Manhattan firm, circa 1979. He has a beautiful wife, a friendly dog, a precocious 12-year old daughter, and a genuine network of friends and co-workers. But for reasons unexplained, Gabriel becomes bored with his life, and cuts out of the office to spend his afternoons watching Burt Reynolds movies. He passes his weekends drinking in Central Park with old friend Cari (Mira Sorvino), an edgy music producer who represents a more exciting lifestyle.
Soon the strange mix of apathy and yearning for meaning build up and Gabriel decides to write a play. He loses interest in his family, preferring instead to hole up in the bathroom to craft his work; he works best on the toilet with a typewriter balanced precariously on his lap. With no training as a writer, and only Hollywood's clichés to guide him, Gabriel experiences an expected creative anguish.
Thankfully, he enjoys the maternal support of Cari and Pamela (Stockard Channing), an agent who specialized in nurturing untapped talent like his. As things get worse with his family, Gabriel finds more fodder for his play, drawing from his real life to tell a story, which serves as personal therapy for mid-life crisis.
Gabriel's play, entitled “Multiple Sarcasms,” is his way of confronting the missteps in his past and stating his renewed hopes for the future. While we never find out whether or not it turns him into a pro, it at least speaks to the people he cares about in ways that he has been unable to in person.
Gabriel's creative journey raises some questions. Here's a man who seemingly has it all: family, career, intelligence, friendships. Feeling unfulfilled in spite of great gifts is understandable, but the way Gabriel drifts through his transformation is under-whelming. His play seems to take very little effort, resulting only in a few phone calls, during which he whines about how hard it is to finish, until someone tells him to stop complaining and just write the damn thing.
Gabriel's frequent absences from work cost him his job, but, no matter, he can still afford to live the same lifestyle and even hang out with former boss Rocky (Mario Van Peebles) in a sidekick role that surely would have shamed his real-life director-father. When success finally comes, Gabriel is equally nonplussed, happy to have everyone off his back but not really caring if people see his play or what the critics think. Even the catharsis that “Multiple Sarcasms” fosters with his estranged wife is met with a smirk and a shrug.
It would be easy to fault Timothy Hutton for failing to draw us into a character whose trials are actually not at all difficult to identify with. But Hutton does a good job balancing Gabriel's negativity with a sense that he still appreciates the good things in life, namely his daughter and his friendship with Cari, which he places at risk by making a drunken admission of love. (Not to worry, the play will clear this dilemma too.)
The problems with “Multiple Sarcasms” stem from inexperienced storytelling of first-time writer-director Brooks Branch, whose history as a publisher and producer has done little to prepare him for making a dramatic film. The premise of a man who relates to the characters he sees in movies more closely than to those he passes on the street is worth discussing, but Branch lacks the kind of light and witty touch that would have helped his tale.
Thematically, Charlie Kaufman's “Synecdoche, New York,” also dealt with a man's quest to fix his personal life by constructing fictional versions of it. “Synecdoche” was Kaufman's directorial debut, but he proved to be a fine director and scenarist. Timothy Hutton holds his own (at times, he does seem to be channeling “Synecdoche”'s hero, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), but “Multiple Sarcasms” has no emotional impact or breadth of scope to accord the film its own expressive position.
Gabriel – Timothy Hutton
Cari – Mira Sorvino
Annie – Dana Delany
Rocky – Mario Van Peebles
Elizabeth – India Ennenga
Lauren – Laila Robins
Pamela – Stockard Channing
Distributed by Multiple Avenue Releasing
Directed by Brooks Branch
Written by Linda Morris and Brooks Branch
Producers, Patrice Auld, Chris Bongirne, Keith Grinstein, Martha Moseley
Original Music, George J. Fontenette
Cinematographer, Jacek Laskus
Editor, Plummy Tucker
Casting, Kerry Barden, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith
Production Designer, Sharon Lomofsky
Art Director, Peter Baran