Robert Schwartzman’s The Argument begins when Jack (Dan Fogler, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”) invites some friends over to celebrate his girlfriend Lisa (Emma Bell, “Final Destination 5”) getting a proper acting role. Things go awry when she invites her co-star Paul (Tyler James Williams, “Detroit”) over as well, without Jack’s knowledge, and the two have a clash of male egos. Jack’s ever supportive friend and agent Brett (Danny Pudi, “Community” TV series) drags his partner Sarah (Maggie Q, “Fantasy Island”) over as well, where they are forced into the world of derivative small talk and uncomfortable situations. Lisa and Paul can’t stop reenacting their flirtatious interactions on stage in real life, which gets to Jack (as it should), as well as Paul’s date Trina (Cleopatra Coleman, “In the Shadow of the Moon”).
This first half of the film is the most awkward dinner party, and much like the guests attending it, you will feel like leaving. It feels especially painful when Jack and Lisa decide to restage the whole dinner party again, just so they can ascertain who was in the right during their argument. But once you power through this first half, the second part of it becomes more delightful.
Schwartzman makes sure that the constant reenactment doesn’t get repetitive or boring, kind of taking a leaf from “Groundhog Day” and other movies where things repeat, though not exactly the same since these characters aren’t stuck in a time loop, but are forcing themselves through this insanity. This is where the aspect of staging and creating kicks in, since Jack is a writer, and in a bid to capture the exactitude of events, he starts constructing a script and invites a troupe of actors to audition and table read the parts. Things, as one would imagine, get out of hand when they invariably take the whole thing more seriously than they should.
On a whole, it’s fun to see the actor perform when the actual person they are playing is right there. Mark Ryder (“Sisters in Arms”), who takes on the role of Jack during the auditions, is really the best. He really captures the nuances of Jack’s physicality, yet does it in such a hyperbolic way. These scenes, in which the actors and the original group are interacting with one another, is truly funny stuff and the highlight of The Argument. I laughed out loud at certain points because it is truly some hilarious stuff. The film is such a great reminder on how art forms, like plays and films, come about; it all begins with a seed gathered from real life experiences, which is then nurtured to grow into a whole world that is fictitious and authentic at the same time.
It boils down to, all Jack ever wanted to be was the man for Lisa, and he was afraid that she was too enamored with her co-star to see him for what he could offer. For Lisa, acting is performance, it isn’t real, but she forgets that these art forms are meant to simulate real life and that she might be miscommunicating her true feelings and intentions when she behaves the way she does with Paul.
The Argument is the furthest thing from a generic romantic comedy, and I really enjoyed the mesh of the theatrical and cinematic space. Kudos to writer Zac Stanford for the cleverness of this screenplay, and creating something I won’t soon forget.