Finding Amanda

(2008) ** 1/2 R
96 min. Magnolia Pictures. Director: Peter Tolan. Cast: Matthew Broderick, Maura Tierney, Brittany Snow, Bill Fagerbakke, Peter Facinelli.

/content/films/3125/1.jpgFor audiences who tire of reassuring plots about characters in crisis who do the right thing, the flimsy but funny Finding Amanda will get a nice buzz going. It may not send the effusive warmth through your veins of the hard stuff, but it's a fair way to lose 96 minutes, thanks in no small part to leading man Matthew Broderick. Pardon the metaphors, but Finding Amanda is a comedy of addiction. No surprise, then, that it's the work of writer-director Peter Tolan, currently enjoying a good run as Denis Leary's creative partner on the recovery-obsessed TV series Rescue Me.

Broderick plays Tolan surrogate Taylor Peters (Broderick), a gambling addict who only goes to therapy out of obligation to his wife (Maura Tierney). "Who am I hurting?" he asks the therapist. "I've already given up enough stuff"—by which he means alcohol and drugs. When he's throwing money away at the track, Taylor's writing beneath his ability on a series called "Those McAllisters" (starring good sport Ed Begley, Jr.). The crushing environment of his workplace isn't given its due as the story hustles along, but the shorthand suffices: this is a place Taylor doesn't want to be. So it's a blessing in disguise when he learns that his niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) is living as a prostitute somewhere in Las Vegas. Reasoning that he has an opportunity to prove to his wife that he can handle his addiction, he heads to Vegas to kill two birds with one stone.

In most movies, the comedy would emerge from Taylor driving into Vegas and trying to fight his demons while surrounded by temptation. But Tolan wisely has Peters screech into the hotel driveway, stride in, and start betting on the fillies. Amanda and his possibly soon-to-be-ex-wife are afterthoughts to his own need for escape from some very obvious problems—he doesn't even tell his network bosses where he's going. In short, he's a shit, one that Broderick makes sadly relatable. What follows doesn't live up to that realization: the film settles into a sitcomedic rhythm of its own and quickly lays a pretty clear path to its ending. An encounter with a pimp comes to a clichéd conclusion, and a plot thread involving Taylor's "relationship" with a casino pit boss (Steve Coogan) works brilliantly not because of the writing, which feels like second-hand Lost in America, but because of Coogan and Broderick's comic rapport.

Tolan's not really all that interested in Amanda, who projects that she's blasé about her sex work. She delivers a heartfelt monologue about her own escape, a home she's trying to keep perfect ("all the sadness and all the bullshit stays outside"), but she's mostly a foil to a story about "finding a man." Her function is to mirror Taylor—both are lying to themselves and seeking comfort in damaging influences For Amanda, it's not so much her job—unpleasant, but so is Peter's brand of whoring—as it is her hair-trigger, cheating boyfriend (Peter Facinelli). Though it's a bit over-written, there's poignancy in her admission that "He looks right. You know? So, maybe if I keep loving him, he'll be right."

Amanda and Taylor are dancing as fast they can, and each points a finger at the other. In one of the film's funniest scenes, Taylor proves Amanda right by popping ecstasy—another easy bit of writing and brilliant bit of acting by Broderick. Finding Amanda doesn't have a nuance in it, but it's pretty consistently amusing in its latter-day Woody Allen way. For most of the way, its morals are happily, believably wrong, but all bad things must come to an end.

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