A familiar “When Harry Met Sally”-like story about repressed love in a platonic friendship gets a fresh take in a comedy about two dorky people who decide to try on new personalities. Rating 3 stars out of 4.
Best friends and 30-ish co-workers Anne (Sarah Burns) and Jeff (Adam Pally) are clearly meant for one another. No one else could possibly tolerate their concentrated dorkiness in matters of love, friendship, work, personal style or anything else.
As these things go in comedies, the two are going to take a long, circuitous path to romance.
What makes “Slow Learners” fresh and funny is that the path is going to lead through a jungle of identity confusion. In the same way a shy person might feel temporarily liberated wearing a mask, Anne and Jeff resolve to become hipper and sexier through superficial behavioral change.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Slow Learners,’ with Sarah Burns, Adam Pally, Kevin Dunn, Bobby Moynihan, Megan Neuringer, Reid Scott, Mary Grill. Directed by Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, written by Matt Serword (story and screenplay) and Peter Swords (story). 96 minutes. Not rated, mature audiences. Sundance Cinemas. (21+)
Wide-eyed and cheerfully optimistic, the duo try on brash new personalities involving materialism, aggressiveness, sexual license and (particularly for Anne) an insatiable thirst for wine. The longer the characters’ role-playing goes on, the more unwieldy and sour it becomes.
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Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce get laughs from an idea that is little more than an extended sketch. But they get even more mileage from the way these goofballs’ assumed identities chafe against the truth of how they feel about one another.
“Slow Learners” is most enjoyable in the way “normal” Anne and Jeff communicate as pals, alternating a chirpy, apologetic stiffness hinting at repressed attraction with an old-married-couple’s absurdity (a conversation about cinnamon buns is priceless).
The film’s brisk energy, witty visuals and sharp supporting cast (including Kevin Dunn and “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan) together push an appealing but thin story idea over the finish line.