7 Chinese Brothers (2015)

7 Chinese Brothers (2015)
  • Time: 76 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Bob Byington
  • Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Root, Olympia Dukakis


In “7 Chinese Brothers,” Jason Schwartzman portrays Larry, an inebriated sad sack who rides a tide of booze onto the shores of an undiscriminating Quick-Lube. The only bright spot is probably his boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). Will Larry keep it together long enough to win the girl, provide for his French bulldog (Schwartzman’s real-life dog Arrow), laze about with his friend Major (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe), and do his cantankerous grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) proud?

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  • Like the REM song from which it takes its title, 7 Chinese Brothers touches on the themes of love and friendship. Mostly it skirts around those themes to focus on Jason Schwartzman and his real-life pug Arrow. Arrow, whose main mission in life is to sleep when not tolerating his master’s monologues, serves as a safety net for writer-director Bob Byington: when in doubt, turn to Arrow.

    To call 7 Chinese Brothers a small-stakes tale would be a generous overstatement since it seems perfectly satisfied to wander along with seemingly not a care in the world. Schwartzman’s Larry, a watered-down version of the selfish and raging title character he played in Listen Up, Philip, is yet another variation of the Schwartzman specialty: a mostly awkward introvert who makes light comedy of the world around him. The lightness disguises a certain passive-aggressiveness. Larry keys the car of his muscled meathead of a co-worker after getting fired from his job. Later, he argues with a driver who berates Larry for throwing a hat at his car; the argument ends with the driver giving Larry a lift.

    Elsewhere, Larry makes daily visits to the assisted-living home where his best friend Major Norwood (TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe) looks after Larry’s grandma (Olympia Dukakis). Dukakis and Schwartzman share some smile-inducing interplay as she encourages him to do more with his life. He’d rather hit her up for money than commit to a job. “Would you like it if you had people in your life who you saw when they need [money]?” she asks. “Yeah,” he replies, “because it would mean that I had money.”

    Her rejection of his latest loan request means he must find some gainful employment, which he does at the Quick Lube. He crushes on his new manager Lupe (Eleanor Pienta) who, in turn, finds herself attracted to Norwood. There’s further half-hearted drama when his former co-worker comes to exact revenge for the keying of his car. 7 Chinese Brothers functions in this way: inconsequential scenes interrupted by slightly surreal moments. It shares a tonal similarity with Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, which was based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. In fact, there is something about the episodic shagginess of 7 Chinese Brothers that suggest the specifically populated frames of a graphic novel. That comparison, however, also points to a stasis that permeates the film. Nothing ever truly happens, and the threadbare script and improvisational quality work against the film in its final 20 – 25 minutes when it attempts to fashion some meaning from the miscellany.

    7 Chinese Brothers is peppered with appearances from the likes of Girls’ Alex Karpovsky, Alex Ross Perry (the writer and director of Listen Up, Philip and the current Queen of the Earth), and the always welcome Stephen Root, but Schwartzman remains the film’s cornerstone. He slacks his way through 7 Chinese Brothers with considerable flair, but to carry such a thin fabrication of a film is too big an ask.

    Which is why Byington is smart to incorporate the scene-stealing Arrow, whose deadpan demeanour is a never-ending delight. Of course, Byington would have been smarter still to populate the entire movie with scenes of Schwartzman and Arrow, both of whom one could happily watch do nothing but being themselves.

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