Tax law is hardly a prepossessing topic for a comedy. Perhaps it could be the backdrop for a dour thriller or a piece of social realism, or even form the basis of a cheeky caper about slyly slipping through cracks and besting the system. But a sweet comedy about an average Joe completely baffled by the tax law system whose chance for salvation and redemption comes from embracing his place within this system? Surely not. Jacob Kornbluth’s Love & Taxes is, therefore, not only a sweet, affectionate and very funny tale of one man learning how to navigate the terrifying (and perhaps terrifyingly dull) landscape of tax law, but is also a radically pro-tax tale that suggests that there are benefits in everyone contributing to wider society through the medium of tax, and that not paying tax may not be something to be admired.
Such a film is startling and refreshing, especially in an age when the US Congress must invoke obscure laws to compel the President of the United States to reveal his tax returns. Pleasingly, Kornbluth does not allow the politics to overwhelm the narrative, which follows the writer-director’s brother, Josh Kornbluth (“Faith”), as he progresses from being a legal clerk and part-time stand-up comedian who owes thousands of tax dollars to the successful star of this as well as other films. Despite the amount of wheeler-dealing and political considerations, the film never loses focus on Josh as he careens from rags to riches and back again, the numbers rapidly escalate, and all manner of dizzying jargon bursts forth from Josh and other characters.
As well as the film’s story being engaging, the method of storytelling is innovative and surprising. The film’s conceit of being a story of its own production is furthered by Josh playing himself in the narrative sections of the film, which are intercut with Josh delivering his stand-up show in which he tells the story of the film. Love & Taxes is therefore an intriguing amalgamation of a narrative movie and a filmed stand-up routine, the common factor between its two devices being Josh.
As Josh is barely ever off screen, the viewer’s enjoyment of Love & Taxes is likely to depend on whether or not they find this central character engaging or annoying. Some might find the stereotype of the neurotic New York Jew a little grating, but Josh Kornbluth’s performance is such that he comes across as a rounded, relatable and, most importantly, warm protagonist. He is neither a sniveling coward nor a tormented genius, but a recognizable figure whose situation may be familiar to many who have to deal with the (baffling) US tax system. When his life starts to turn around and his comedy routine is “optioned” by Hollywood (the script frequently pokes fun at professional jargon, both in relation to tax law and filmmaking), the film creates a clear sense of fantasy that helps the viewer get caught up in Josh’s highly unrealistic vision of his experience. Surreal fantasies pepper the film, reminiscent of weird flights of fancy in TV sitcoms like “Scrubs” and “How I Met Your Mother” (watch out for the “Franchisé family”). Again, some viewers might find these moments irritating, but they are also part of Josh’s charm and that of the film as a whole.
Aside from Josh, the other characters are quirky and funny, including Josh’s affably eccentric boss Bob (David Keith), his charmingly neurotic girlfriend Sara (Sarah Overman, “Haiku Tunnel”), brother Jacob (played by Anthony Nemirovsky), fan David (Nicholas Pelczar, “We Pedal Uphill”), and his deceptively sweet tax attorney Mo Glass (Helen Shumaker, “Jack”). There are many laugh out moments, such as the surreal sequences mentioned above, much verbal wit, brilliant timing in the stand-up sequences and some beautiful instances of slapstick, such as when Jacob collapses. There are wonderful scenes featuring the frankly bonkers tax goddesses (no, really!) Kristen (Amy Resnick) and Betty (Lorri Holt, “Bee Season”), as well as brief appearances from a host of zany characters.
Despite all this wackiness of the storytelling and the weirdness of the central conceit, the Kornbluths never slip into parody or take the comedy too far, largely due to the grounding effect of Josh’s stand-up. It may seem like a static and potentially distracting device, but it works as an effective counterpoint to much of the surrounding absurdity. In addition, Love & Taxes has a fundamentally positive and challenging message — do not blame external factors like “the system” or “the government” or even “The Man” for one’s problems. Instead, the film suggests that we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves and the society that we exist in. And maybe, just maybe, paying for that society isn’t such a bad thing, and the IRS doesn’t always warrant the seething hatred that it so often receives.