It’s hard to dissect a movie when you can’t even tell what it’s going for in the first place. Such is the case with My Dead Boyfriend, a bizarre dark comedy with a lot going on, but very little to say. As its only the second feature directed by prolific actor Anthony Edwards and based on the novel “Dogrun” by Arthur Nersesian, you’d expect there to be some inspired take on the material. Unfortunately, “inspired” is far from the first word I’d use to describe this movie.
The movie begins with Mary (Heather Graham, “The Hangover Part III”), a writer in New York, being fired from her job and coming back to her New York home to find her boyfriend, Primo (John Corbett, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”) dead in the living room. Seemingly unfazed by both of these unfortunate circumstances, she is left with both his dog and his ashes. Trying to dispose of them both, Mary gradually begins to learn more about the man she was willingly living with for six months through a variety of quirky characters and situations.
At the end of the day, though, the movie is still about Mary, and My Dead Boyfriend suffers all the more because of it. Mary begins the movie as completely unlikable and never seems to have either a complete or redemptive arc. She floats from plot point to plot point hardly even caring where it leads or what’s at stake, a sentiment I’m sure the audience of this movie can relate to. This is attributed to a half-baked performance from Graham, who looks like she is sleepwalking her way through the script, which in itself feels amateurish. The only emotion I bought from her was that, much like her character, she didn’t want to be involved in any of this.
Her dead boyfriend isn’t all that interesting either. While Corbett has a good chunk of screen time, he is not given one line of dialogue. Instead, whenever Primo speaks, he’s either mouthing along to Graham’s awkward bits of narration, lip-syncing lyrics to “A Chorus Line,” or kept in complete silence. We only learn about him through the supporting characters Mary meets on her “journey,” who are all some sort of cartoonishly or offensively outdated archetype, such as a cockney-accented punk rocker Asian named Sue Watt (Martha Millan, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete”) and an over-the-top French art gallery owner (Gina Gershon, “Love Ranch”). The only supporting roles that don’t fit into this mold are love interests Howard (Scott Michael Foster, “Blood & Oil” TV series) and Joey (Griffin Dunne, “Dallas Buyers Club”), the latter of whom is one of the better actors in the movie, yet strangely isn’t named on IMDb’s cast list. It’s probably for the best though, as both his and Foster’s efforts trying to find a genuine chemistry with Graham seem wasted.
The comedic bits themselves are confusing and poorly executed. Graham and company have no sense of timing, I can’t count how many times I thought, “That was the best take you guys had?” There are several pregnant pauses in the dialogue, and none of them are effective because you still think you’re waiting for the punchline. Then you’re left blindsided when the scene ends and the movie moves on. The ineptitude in basic joke execution is staggering. The strongest element of My Dead Boyfriend is actually a third-act dramatic turn from Mary’s best friend Zoe (Katherine Moennig, “The Lincoln Lawyer”), but it’s a disappointingly brief subplot.
The movie takes place in 1999 (I assume because Nersesian’s book was published around 2000), and every so often a character will drop a reference to Y2K or social networking for no other reason than to remind you of the time period, but it serves no organic purpose other than that. I suppose it might have something to do with Mary having to simultaneously move on from both her boyfriend and the last millennium, but it’s barely touched on and doesn’t feel relevant at all in the movie’s context.
It hurts me to call a movie “pointless,” because I know it never really is for those involved. Unfortunately, the only things My Dead Boyfriend left me with were several giant question marks in my brain. Who approved this final cut? Where is this movie going? What is the purpose of all these cartoons? Why do I care? Did anyone else care? While it gives the appearance of a run-of-the-mill indie comedy, it takes a massive nosedive in trying to find its identity. As a comedy, it’s a failure. There are only about five chuckle-worthy moments, and even now I can’t recall what those moments were. Like Primo himself, the movie is dead-on-arrival and never manages to resuscitate itself.