REVIEW: Tribeca Film- Aardvark Lacks a Real Message

It’s named Aardvark so that it can be on the top of alphabetical lists. So says the director, Brian Shoaf.

I begin this review with this information so that readers don’t spend the entire movie wondering about the significance of the title. There really isn’t any. In fact, the aardvark that’s shoehorned into the movie really has nothing to do with anything.

Oh, sorry. *Spoilers.*

It’s important to get this out of the way because Aardvark deserves your undivided attention, even if you were like me and sitting in the crowd with Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, and Malia Obama. (Dropping names like T-Swift drops sick beats.)

The film has a lot to say, and does so in a short amount of time, building from scene to scene with no filler. It tackles mental illness, brotherly love, therapy, and complicated sexual relationships, but does so without ever getting preachy, or really relaying a message at all.

Much of the movie is very matter-of-fact. Quinto’s character, Josh Norman, has started seeing a therapist, and even states he’s sought help due to the impending return of his brother, Craig, played by Jon Hamm. But there’s never a reason given as to why he chose to see this particular therapist, Emily, portrayed by an impressive Jenny Slate. Emily apparently has a complicated sexual history, but it’s not clear how it affects her or the plot in any real way. Lip service is paid to her not having much experience and needing the job to deal with her own issues, but the topic is never really explored.

Craig is an actor, gone from Josh’s life for nearly 15 years, who returns to sell their childhood home years after their parents’ deaths. The potential visit from Craig has Josh shaken up, and notably confused.

The movie occasionally flashes back to a childhood visit to the zoo, and acknowledges some difficult times in their history, but doesn’t do much in the way of building that backstory. The movie instead thrives on making the audience question the validity of every interaction it witnesses. Due to Josh’s mental illness, he sees things that aren’t there, and often ends up confused about reality. These issues lead to the viewer questioning if Quinto’s brother even exists.

The roles are portrayed with love, and the issues surrounding mental illness are treated with care, despite no explicit message about homes, drugs, or familial responsibility.

In short, Aardvark tackles real issues, but unlike movies that are typically cited as Oscar bait, it doesn’t offer a unique perspective or answer difficult questions. At its best, this film allows audiences to see the world from a different perspective. At its worst, Aardark is still a fun, interesting movie, that’s worth watching even if the ex President’s daughter isn’t watching it with you.

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