Just as I expected, Michigan Theater was packed to the brim on Friday night for the sneak preview of Answer This! I arrived right at 7:30 pm after having some parking issues (as in, there were no parking spots left), and managed to snag two seats in the very last row of the balcony. I felt like I needed binoculars to see the men speaking on stage. Ralph Williams delivered a few opening words – I’ll never tire of hearing him talk. The next to speak was Mr. Farah, father to the writing/directing/production duo Michael and Christopher Farah. He told a few amusing anecdotes about his sons, then handed them the microphone. They thanked everybody for coming many times over, and seemed genuinely blown away by all the attention this film has received. I saw one of them taking pictures of the crowd at the end of the show, even as many members of the crowd were taking pictures of him on stage. Both brothers refused to take all, or even most of, the credit for the movie – a large portion of their opening speech was dedicated to pointing out all of the actors in attendance and asking us to give each one a hearty round of applause. Around 7:50 pm, the curtain was pulled back, and the movie started.
Even with all the press surrounding this event, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me wondered whether or not the Ann Arbor setting and Ralph Williams’ presence would be the only interesting aspects of the movie. As it turned out, though, the recognition factor was only icing on the cake. The script, while somewhat predictable at times, is nothing short of brilliant in most places. A brief plot summary: Paul Tarson (Christopher Gorham) is in his eighth year of grad school, and is being hounded by his father (the renowned Professor Tarson, portrayed by the renowned Professor Ralph Williams) to finally finish his dissertation and become a professor at U of M. Paul has spent his entire life in Ann Arbor, and seems destined to spend the rest of it there, as well. It takes a cute girl and a passion for a local trivia tournament to provide him with an adjusted outlook on life and his own potential.
Christopher Gorham did an excellent job as Paul, and Ralph Williams slipped into the role of Professor Tarson without a hitch, but the two standout characters were Naomi (Arielle Kebbel) and James (Nelson Franklin). Naomi, Paul’s sort-of girlfriend, is charming, feisty, and spontaneous: Paul’s complete opposite. She gives him a lot to think about in terms of his own dreary, complacent way of stumbling through life. She’s by no means perfect, but she has a lot more fun learning from mistakes than he does by not making any mistakes.
His best friend, James, is hilarious: he’s a pompous, highly intellectual man who teaches test prep and has a heart of gold. And even amidst his complaining about his atrocious students, one can tell that he has a better grip on life than Paul does. During the scene in which Paul yells at James and calls him a failure, I felt a strong urge to stand up and defend the man who was really a more likeable character than Paul. (Don’t worry – I didn’t actually do it!)
The only character I didn’t appreciate was Paul’s peer, Lucas (Kip Pardue). He’s nothing but a jerk, and not even a fully-developed one. He shows up in several scenes, but never has much to say. Where Naomi and James add depth to the script, Lucas seems like an afterthought. I was left wondering what the audience was supposed to gain from Lucas’ interactions with Paul.
Overall, I thought the film was beautifully made. For those of you who saw it, I hope you enjoyed it as well. For those of you who didn’t get a chance, keep your eyes peeled! It starts its festival run next year, and I imagine it will be pretty successful. This won’t be the last we hear from the Farah brothers.