The Baxter

All comedies end in weddings, the axiom goes, and all too many romantic comedies end in weddings where, at the last moment, Mr. Right realizes the error of his commitment-phobic ways and whisks his long-suffering soul mate out from under the nose of some sweet but dull fellow. This romantic comedy is about that poor schmuck standing at the altar, looking...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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All comedies end in weddings, the axiom goes, and all too many romantic comedies end in weddings where, at the last moment, Mr. Right realizes the error of his commitment-phobic ways and whisks his long-suffering soul mate out from under the nose of some sweet but dull fellow. This romantic comedy is about that poor schmuck standing at the altar, looking like a Mac truck just ran over his dog. In other words, a "Baxter" — like accountant Elliot Sherman (writer-director Michael Showalter), whose idea of fun is backwards-pants day at work and who's been losing girlfriends to dashing old flames since his high-school prom. It's not that he doesn't have things going for him: He's responsible, gainfully employed, well groomed and nice. But he loves Brooklyn, is lactose-intolerant, allergic to peanuts, lint, cereal, paint, Magic Markers and sand gnats and, worse, lacks the sense not to keep such information on the QT. Elliot drinks Harvey Wallbangers and white wine spritzers, wears a silly driving cap, reads the dictionary for fun and lives by the motto "Compromise is the key to success." As the story opens, he's about to exchange vows with pampered daddy's-girl Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks), who edits a high-profile fashion magazine and doesn't know why anyone lives without a doorman, when in swoops her debonair ex — wealthy, sensitive, globe-trotting scientist Bradley Lake (Justin Theroux) — to profess undying love. The events leading to this sorriest of sorry passes unfold in flashback, starting on the fateful day one year earlier when Elliot met two women in rapid succession. Fate clearly intended Elliot's destiny to dovetail with that of brainy, offbeat temp-worker Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), who shares his love of words and slightly nerdy sense of humor. But Elliot foolishly pursued shallow dream-girl Caroline rather than his quirky soul mate. This wry, low-key comedy, crafted by members of the sketch-comedy group The State, swims defiantly against the stream of contemporary comedy, eschewing bodily-function jokes and obvious gags in favor of laughs so sly and self-effacing you could almost overlook them. Showalter throws believable obstacles in the path of true romance without forcing Cecil and Elliot to act like complete idiots, refrains from painting Caroline and Bradley as farcical grotesques and never holds a scene longer than it takes to make the point. Williams pulls off the harder-than-it-looks feat of appearing plain and bedraggled one moment and radiantly lovely the next, and Showalter's Elliot is a surprisingly subtle creation, less than a fairy-tale prince but more than a consolation prize — at least for his own personal Ms. Baxter.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: All comedies end in weddings, the axiom goes, and all too many romantic comedies end in weddings where, at the last moment, Mr. Right realizes the error of his commitment-phobic ways and whisks his long-suffering soul mate out from under the nose of some s… (more)

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