Dan Simon’s “Lonely Boys” begins with the sound of crashing waves and bookends with our wayward protagonists treading though the water.
Jules (Simon) is a stubborn playwright who has recently shirked a TV deal. Saul (Gregory Lay) is a boozing, frustrated restaurant manager and acknowledged Bradley Cooper lookalike. Saul wears a facial bandaid of questionable origin the way Jake Gittes wears a bandage across his knife sliced nose. Both men are dealing with being newly single. Saul refuses to sign his divorce papers and Jules has moved back home with his parents after his relationship has gone belly up. A scene in which Jules revisits the apartment he shared with his ex girlfriend is especially well done and recalls the poignancy of a similar scene in Alexander Payne’s masterful “Sideways”.
The two bounce around Brooklyn on a sweaty summer day. Their musings flow from bodegas and bars out onto the streets and rooftops. People join them for a time and then peel off. It has the authentic feel of a day spent walking the New York City streets. One of the most refreshing things about “Lonely Boys” is that it is hyper aware of its influences. It mirrors the iconic bridge shot from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” (also Jules’s ex leaves him a DVD of Allen’s “Another Woman”) and a brief sojourn brings the two face to face with the often criticized and entitled types of millennials portrayed on HBO’s “Girls’.
Just when the film is in danger of becoming stagnant in its New York setting, it uproots our duo and plunks them down in the middle of a Connecticut beachside estate party. Having burned their bridges in the city, Saul by getting fired and Jules by rebuffing a salacious Broadway producer, they are free. It is then that we realize how much we love these characters and what a delight it is to follow them into the unknown. The film perfectly captures the excitement of being in a place and around people you had no idea you would be amongst when you woke up that morning.
Enough cannot be said about the chemistry between Simon and Lay. They give the film a real momentum and keep it from being just a series of well written encounters. Whenever Simon flirts too closely with the clench jawed seriousness of the down on his luck playwright cliché, he is bailed out by Lay. A thinly veiled discussion about Jules cutting a character from his new play is clearly about his inability to excise the destructive Saul from his life but it is saved due to the direction and the strength of the actors in the scene. The script begins to delve into a subplot about Jules’s drinking problem and attempts at recovery but smartly keeps it mostly in the background. Besides the leads, special praise is due for actors Mark Borkowski & Michael Halliday, cinematographer Alex Watson-Eng and composer Max Cudworth for his terrific piano score.
“Lonely Boys” is a fiery and moving look at broken men who are still fighting the good fight.