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Heartland: Eat Wheaties!

by on October 8, 2020
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Somebody give Tony Hale more high-profile work. He deserves it. Proof: Eat Wheaties!

The Arrested Development star anchors this plucky underdog comedy, from first-time director Scott Abramovitch, as Sid Straw, a goodhearted but incredibly boring and out-of-touch software salesman. He’s your typical middle-aged, mustachioed dweeb, constantly adorned in dated business casual attire. When we first meet him, Sid has just received notice that he is being given control over planning his college reunion. It clearly means a lot to him as he jumps up and down at his desk at work and eagerly begins planning the event.

Sid is one of those guys who doesn’t really seem to have much interesting about them, but he does have one reliable fun fact, which he whips out whenever he can: he graduated from Penn with movie star Elizabeth Banks, and the way he tells it, they were actually friends. He even has a blurry old photo of a young Banks, surrounded by friends… and himself kind of in the back corner of the frame.

Understandably, people tend to brush off his claim of being “friends” when they see the picture.

Sid knows he has to get Elizabeth Banks to show up at his class reunion. So he makes a Facebook account (of course he doesn’t have a Facebook account, are you kidding?) and sets to work adding his classmates and setting up the event. Unfortunately, Sid apparently can’t tell the difference between a personal account and a blue-checkmarked public business page. So he “likes” Elizabeth Banks on Facebook and sets to work inviting her… by way of a public post on the page’s wall.

When she doesn’t initially respond (because that’s not how that works), Sid keeps writing her. Sometimes he includes unappetizing details from their college days or even from his current personal life–after all, why shouldn’t he confide in his old friend Elizabeth Banks via this “private” digital letter?

Anyone paying attention in the age of online outrage can imagine the very public trouble Sid gets himself into. And there’s your movie.

Hale plays Sid with a kind of sad likability; he’s the type of person who just wants to be your friend, but inadvertently crawls under your skin with outdated references, in-jokes only he gets, and inescapable niceties. You cringe at his aloofness to his own repellent blandness, but you want him to figure it out and improve himself. He’s like Michael Scott, but not an asshole.

Abramovitch stays pretty close to the well-worn path of upbeat comedies, hitting all the standard story beats for the “socially awkward protagonist” comedy. It’s biggest strength in that arena is its inherent goodness; it’s just nice to watch a comedy where people are nice to and supportive of each other for once. There are a couple good jokes in there too, bolstered by some solid improv from Hale and Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Sid’s lawyer. The real charm, though, is Hale’s performance; the little ways he chooses to express Sid’s enthusiasm and confusion about what’s going on around him, and his unending, doe-eyed optimism.

Eat Wheaties! is an adaptation of Michael Kun’s book The Locklear Letters, and it’s essentially the same story, switching out Banks for Heather Locklear. I couldn’t really tell you how accurate of an adaptation this is, but it errs more toward creating a palatable, lighthearted comedy than attempting any sort of incisive commentary. But that’s okay. It’s a goofy cautionary tale of celebrity worship, sure, but it works better as just a vessel for Hale to humanize a lovable loser.

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