I love George Saunders. I’ve only read one collection and one other story, but I’ve loved everything I’ve read. (This reminds me, I really should read his more recent collections.) But I’ve never read this story. So I can’t comment on how true this movie is to the story. [Editor’s Note: I have since read the story.]
It does feel like a George Saunders-esque story, though. And some of the humour feels like him. There is some dialogue that sounds like it’s been preserved from the story (even though I’ve never read it). There is at least one major plot hole, which I don’t know whether or not it’s from the story.
Netflix tells me someone said this is the best performance of Hemsworth’s career and that person isn’t far off. He is playing super off type here and he’s absolutely excellent. The same cannot be said for Teller, who feels miscast. Everyone else is fine but you can tell there isn’t a huge budget as there are very few speaking roles.
The movie makes a really good use of music; much like American Psycho way back when, we’re given some idea of character through how much they love yacht rock.
And the movie mostly works for a while. The direction is not great, as the film doesn’t trust its audience and there are too many flashbacks. (We are hit over the head with plot points more than once.) But Hemsworth does an excellent job (as does the script, at first) and it just feels like the film is working despite the direction.
But things get messy around the climax. And I suspect the film deviates from the story just a little bit in how it handles the reveals and the confrontation between Hemsworth’s and Teller’s characters. The climax just feels like it as pasted into the rest of the film, just a bunch of cliches (though there is one good joke). And that lack of a good landing really makes you think harder about the lack of effective direction earlier in the film.
I think a surer hand would have made the film a lot better but I’m also guessing they deviate from the story in order to make the whole thing seem more like a film. [Editor’s Note: The film is very different from the story.]
I still think I liked it more than most people, but I also worry I was charitably inclined based on positive associations that may not have actually led to quality on the screen.