Jeff Garlin is a veteran of both the Chicago improv-comedy scene and the Hollywood character-actor grind, and he's turned his feature-filmmaking debut, I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, into a showcase for all his comic thespian pals. Garlin plays the soft center of the movie: a struggling actor looking for love in the big city. Over the course of 80 minutes, he encounters the likes of Sarah Silverman, playing a sexually adventurous ice-cream-parlor counter girl, Bonnie Hunt as a lonely elementary-school teacher, and Dan Castellaneta as a friendly convenience-store owner, plus Tim Kazurinsky, Richard Kind, Wallace Langham, and Amy Sedaris. The movie is practically an homage to Garlin's favorite bit players and oddballs.


It's also an homage to two of Garlin's biggest influences: Jackie Gleason, whose wide-eyed "Poor Soul" character pops up on TV at one point, and Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, which becomes a plot point and a reference point. Garlin's character is initially appalled when he hears that a production company is in Chicago casting for a Marty remake, but he also desperately wants the lead role. As someone who lives with his hectoring mother and spends most evenings sitting on the hood of his car outside Wrigley Field, pounding down snack cakes and milk, he feels he understands how to play the part.

I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With is unassuming and sweet-natured, and Garlin earns a lot of goodwill with his off-the-cuff wisecracks. (When his mother tells him the shirt he's wearing makes him look fat, Garlin grins impishly and says, "If anything, I make the shirt look fat.") But it's easier to want to like Cheese than to fully enjoy it. Garlin's direction is inert, not allowing enough shared-frame interaction between the characters, and his use of an ironically jaunty score is too derivative of his own Curb Your Enthusiasm. Still, it's hard to dislike the movie, either, because it's so honest about the desperation middle-aged people feel when they have no one to share their lives with, no prospects on the horizon, and nothing to eat in the fridge.