Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Marc Pease Experience

Illustration for article titled The Marc Pease Experience

The shadow of Rushmore looms over Jason Schwartzman’s performance in The Marc Pease Experience, but Todd Louiso’s highly unanticipated follow-up to the 2002 miserablist snoozer Love Liza bears an unfortunate resemblance to more recent comedies as well. The film’s broad take on the self-delusion endemic to the high-school musical-theater world suggests Hamlet 2 minus the laughs, its a cappella subplot invites unflattering comparisons to Ed Helms’ instrument-free crooning in The Office, and Schwartzman’s high-school girlfriend recalls Seth Rogen’s barely legal lady-love in Pineapple Express. Louiso’s misfiring comedy feels less like a comic feast than a thrown-together assemblage of haphazardly nuked leftovers.

In a squandered lead performance, the adorable, winning Schwartzman plays the non-adorable, non-winning title character, a myopic dreamer who never recovered from freaking out and humiliating himself during a high-school performance of The Wiz. Eight years later, Schwartzman still hasn’t moved on. He hangs out at the high school, where he’s dating senior Anna Kendrick and badgering would-be mentor Ben Stiller, a musical-theater phony who’s fucking Schwartzman’s girlfriend when not ducking his calls. Schwartzman has finally raised the money to record a demo for his a cappella group, but would-be producer Stiller has no interest in further encouraging Schwartzman’s fantasies of a music career.


Stiller and Schwartzman look like long-lost brothers. Even more disconcertingly, they seem to be playing variations on the same character, both smiling cheeseballs who’ve internalized the smarmy artificiality of the musical-theater world to the point where even their true selves are phony. The difference is that Schwartzman is a sweetheart/true believer and Stiller is an oily cad, though neither character is developed enough for the pathos of having pathetic dreams crushed to have any resonance. Character-actor-turned-filmmaker Louiso has delivered another sad, joyless downer disguised as a goofy chucklefest; it’s almost impressive that he’s made a broad comedy about musical theater and a cappella singing that’s every bit as depressing as the gas-huffing hijinks in Love Liza. Who could have guessed a concept as promising and long overdue as a musical Jason Schwartzman vehicle would lead to such a regrettable little nothing?

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