Finding Amanda

Magnolia Pictures
Peter Tolan/United States 2008

Finding Amanda is a dark comedy so bent on emphasizing the dark that it sacrifices the comedy, leaving things in a state of grand tonal confusion. Writer-director Peter Tolan – best known as the creator of Rescue Me – heightens the characterizations and sets up an ironic premise, only to take things in a grim, sinister direction. He indulges in fatal contradictory impulses, tilting things towards satire before plunging head on into serious drama. The end product ridicules the vice-ridden cultures of the TV industry and the city of Las Vegas, while it also attempts an earnest chronicling of one man’s struggle with his addictions within the dual milieus.

Matthew Broderick, still too baby-faced to be a convincing fully-grown adult, stars as Taylor Peters. Living in Los Angeles and the showrunner of a bad sitcom, he deals with his professional sorrows by leaving work early, blowing a large amount of money at the racetrack, and lying to his wife (Maura Tierney) about his actions. To atone for his sins, the recovering alcoholic and addicted gambler takes matters into his own hands when he learns that his niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) has run off to Las Vegas to live as a prostitute. He heads to Sin City to convince her (and perhaps himself) that a trip to a rehab clinic is needed.

Misfortune piles on Taylor throughout the rest of the film. Predictably, his ill-advised trip to Vegas backfires horrifically. Upon his arrival he makes a beeline towards the Sports Book, starts patronizing cocktail waitresses, and discovers that Amanda actually likes what she’s doing. Unfortunately for Tolan, the audience shares the pain of Taylor’s meteoric descent towards rock bottom without being given anything to lessen the blow. As portrayed by Broderick, the character comes across as a nice guy engulfed in a disastrous situation. Thus, as the calamities keep snowballing, it becomes impossible to desire much more than that they stop.

Also, the filmmaker adds no new insight to the Vegas experience. The characterization of the city as an enabler of wanton behavior, a gleeful paradise of ill repute, has been put forth ever since Bugsy Siegel built the first casinos in the desert. The sterile production design – with its bland, bare carpets, rows of machines and rote decor – lends the casino setting none of the city’s unique glitzy flavor.

Adding to the misery, Snow fails to make Amanda convincing. In her hands, the character is an exceptionally ditzy, self-absorbed high-school cheerleader type without any tangible hint of hidden pain or regret. Her shallowness seems so far removed from Broderick’s middle-aged angst that their bonding comes across as completely inauthentic. Their relationship never breaks through the picture’s aloof façade and the characters’ interactions suffer from the same problem besetting Finding Amanda as a whole: a complete divorce from real life.

© 2008 Robert Levin. All rights reserved.

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