Puddle of Mud: Faber’s Debut an Antiquated Exercise of Quest for Love
Romantically inclined comedies from the dude’s perspective may seem rare, but often suffer just as acutely from narrative cliché as their feminine inclined counterparts, and screenwriter/director Herschel Faber’s debut, Cavemen, is not an exception to the rule. Modern hetero courtship gets a superficial overview in this examination of four males who may or may not be looking for the mysterious object known as “the one,” but Faber’s tame observations seem more like a lost opportunity to say something fresh about dating (not to mention a highly criticized Los Angeles social scene).
Dean (Skylar Astin), lives and works with several of his buddies in Los Angeles, including the rather woman hungry Jay (Chad Michael Murray). Beyond struggling to be a screenwriter, Dean seriously would like to experience love, which would also help his new script, which centers on the subject. Embarking on a string of dates, and realizing that his group of friends are hardly the people to go to for relationship advice, Dean slowly begins to realize that part of the reason he seems so incompatible with his random dates would be because he’s actually quite attracted to close friend and co-worker Tess (Camilla Belle), though both seem reluctant to admit their mutual attraction.
Not surprisingly, we get a heavy dose of Faber’s prehistoric metaphor in one of the film’s first conversations, where Murray, playing the naggingly over-confident lady’s man, reminisces about the glory of the Neanderthal age, when men and women would exchange grunts before expected copulation. With that bygone era long gone, we focus on the sensitive lead protagonist, who is certainly played engagingly by Skylar Astin, but portraying a character that plays like a direct cipher for Faber’s ideas.
Overly obvious exchanges of dialogue often grate in the film’s romantic set-up between Astin and Belle, but Cavemen feels inexcusably poor when we’re forced to struggle through the predictability of Dean’s screenwriting endeavor, topped with pompous flourish by the presence of Jason Patric’s smug agent, there to give Dean’s screenplay on finding love some credibility. The result is a lot of non-sequitur conversations and reenactments concerning Dean’s script, a mechanism that seem to distract and delay our attention until we get to his inevitable entanglement with Tess.
There’s enough chemistry between Astin and Belle to warrant some kind of interest, but the hokey characterization of Dean, as well as lack of development in Belle’s Tess (along with all the other supporting characters) means we’re never quite convinced of their match. Camilla Belle is, at times, a striking screen presence, but she’s never given a chance to be more than a reasonably intelligent object of affection.
If most of the supporting cast are serviceable clichés, Faber’s script makes an obnoxious misstep with a subplot involving one of Dean’s unmemorable cohorts relating his puddle of mud test for the perfect mate (i.e., if your lady friend falls in a puddle of mud, you’ll know she’s the one if she pulls you in with her rather than brushing it off or complaining), which awkwardly is granted physical manifestation. It’s not so much that Cavemen is unwatchable, but rather a lackadaisical antiquation about finding that love is more propinquitous than we realize.
★ / ☆☆☆☆☆