Some people want fame. Others want fortune. Almost everyone would love to have some combination of both. But, all that Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame really wants is someone to eat cheese with, preferably someone within the greater Chicago area.
In his first feature, which he also wrote and directed, Garlin chronicles his search for an amorous dining partner with an effortless charm and honesty that makes for a sweet, albeit frothy, little indie flick.
The film’s justifiably awkward title, “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” is the most obvious badge of its indie identity. As the film progresses, though, the title makes more and more sense. Garlin’s character, James Aaron, is a somewhat autobiographical, sad-sack sketch of himself – he’s an overweight improv actor with Chicago’s famous Second City troupe struggling with confidence issues and his love-hate relationship with food. He is also close to 40 and still living with an equally lovably, quirky mother.
When he gets unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, a fellow improv actress, James goes on hapless search for a new woman that he can share real romance with. He wistfully mentions, during a stroll through the park with his love interest Beth – played to insouciant perfection by the inimitable Sarah Silverman – that there are always young lovers sitting together on the grass, eating cheese. This leads to the inevitable title-drop within the movie, but Garlin manages to pull it off in a genuine and understated way. It is clear that he desperately wants to abandon his lonely, junk food existence for a fulfilling, more protein-rich experience with a real woman and a healthier lifestyle. Almost any viewer can identify with that, though some may say that cheese might not be the best supplement. For James, it is a start.
Too bad old habits are hard to break. Somehow James gets roped in by the manically idiosyncratic and sexy Beth, only to find that romantic fulfillment is harder to achieve than he originally thought. The dry, “Curb” style comedy really begins to come into play at this point as James reacts nervously to Beth’s aggressive nature while he simultaneously develops feelings for a jazz-loving school teacher named Stella – played equally well, and with a surprising amount of acerbic wit, by the underused and underrated Bonnie Hunt. Now would be a good time to mention that the film is populated by a slew of solid, B-list actors and actresses that keep begging the question, “What else have I seen them in?” Two characters that really shine are the surly convenience store owner, played by Dan Castellaneta of “The Simpsons,” and Amy Sedaris’ as the completely whacked-out guidance counselor.
Eventually, it is the quirkiness of all the characters involved and each actor’s improvisatory skills that keep the film’s action light and enjoyable. The plot imitates most other romantic-comedy arcs and its quick, disjointed resolution leaves much to be desired. However, like the difference between a cheese stick and full meal, the plot may fail to fully fill up finicky audiences but it does provide plenty of satisfaction in the heat of the moment. Overall, Garlin’s debut remains surprisingly enjoyable, but really only worth a single viewing – perhaps with your own favorite cheese-eater.