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Sundance Review: ‘The Merry Gentleman’ Is a Dark Comedy That is Awkard, Yet Tedious

Michael Keaton may not get great praise for his directorial debut, but he has certainly shown that he has serious potential.
By  · Published on January 20th, 2008

It is a very special type of movie that can make you want to love it but also suck the life out of you at the same time. It is similar to spousal abuse; whereas the person you love so much is also not good for you at all. I mention spousal abuse not to be crass, but also because that is where The Merry Gentleman, actor Michael Keaton’s directorial debut, begins.

We first meet young Kate (Kelly McDonald, No Country for Old Men) after a recent beat-down, courtesy of her rageaholic, cop husband (Bobby Cannavale, The Ten). In a very emotional early scene, she is seen patching up a wicked black eye, then bursting into tears. As we would hope, we soon see her fleeing the arms of her husband and moving to a new city, a new life and a bit of peace. That is, until she walks out of work one night and looks up to the sky. There she sees a contract killer (Michael Keaton) standing at the ledge of a building, ready to jump and leave this world behind. With one scream, she causes him to fall back onto the roof, saving his life and setting into motion on odd series of events that would eventually lead her to befriending him, unknowing of his hitman past.

It is really just a sad story of two people who have no one and somehow find comfort in each other. The relationship between the two leads, intendedly, is quite awkward and at times funny, but at some point during the film it becomes rather tedious and frustrating.

Frustrating, to say the least, is the best way I can describe my experience with this film. I absolutely adore Michael Keaton (I mean, the guy was Batman) and wanted to love every minute of his directorial debut. The only problem is that I only ended up loving bits and pieces — probably about 60 of the film’s 110 minutes. It starts out as a very dark comedy, deeply intriguing as we are drawn into the world of this suicidal hitman and this sweet, innocent young woman. But then, as the relationship between the two main characters begins to come full circle, we get lost in an abundance of unnecessary dialogue. It is meant to be awkward, and it is. But that doesn’t mean that its interesting.

The saving grace though, is Kelly McDonald — you will remember her as Josh Brolin’s wife in No Country for Old Men. I believe firmly that I could sit and listen to her talk in her native Irish accent for hours and never grow tired of her. Thankfully for this film, she is the centerpiece — lots of talking. She is also a very gifted leading lady, delivering an almost enchanting performance to balance the very dry, unemotional delivery of Michael Keaton. She succeeds in breathing life into a film that desperately needed CPR at times.

In the end — I liked this film. That does not necessarily mean that you will, though. It is awkward, at times very funny and engaging (but only in spurts). For an actor turning director, Michael Keaton has done well for himself, he just needed to show a little bit more restraint with the tedious scenes that made the film feel longer than it needed to be. But that is a rookie mistake. My hope is that not only will he make more films, but that he will learn from this outing and continue to make better films — because I can see where a great director can come out of all of this.

Grade: C+

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)