[Review] ‘THE ARGUMENT’ an absurdist romp that’s a strong contender for the year’s funniest comedy

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

THE ARGUMENT

Not rated, 71 minutes.
Director: Robert Schwartzman
Stars: Dan Fogler, Emma Bell, Tyler James Williams, Danny Pudi, Maggie Q, Cleopatra Coleman, Karan Brar, Mark Ryder, Charlotte McKinney, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Marielle Scott

Many of us have a habit of repeatedly replaying arguments we’ve had with people in our minds. Our memories of past quarrels rarely seem to fade, and we can often rerun them from beginning to end with absolute accuracy (or as perfect as we can remember with our emotions in tow). Sometimes, we fantasize about saying things differently, imagining how the other person might have responded if we had another strategy in place.

Enter director Robert Schwartzman (THE UNICORN) and screenwriter Zac Stanford (SLEEPWALKING) to unspool these mental movies with a movie of their own — and a funny one. 

Paying tribute to the wit and style of classic Woody Allen and Roman Polanski films, THE ARGUMENT presents its titular conflict in all its uncomfortable and awkward reality. It analyzes it in such a fashion that you cannot help but laugh at its honesty and absurdity while also rethinking your approach to your own confrontations.

The film follows a couple who go to some pretty insane lengths to decide which one is right after a party-ending remark. Struggling screenwriter Jack (an always spirited Dan Fogler) wants to celebrate his actress girlfriend Lisa’s (Emma Bell) stage debut. Lisa just nabbed the role of Mozart’s wife Constance in a production called “Wolfgang.” While Jack is proud of his girlfriend’s success (and wants to pop the question), his mind is also weighed down by Lisa’s flirtatious connection with her co-star Paul (Tyler James Williams). 

Do you think the filmmakers are going to leave Paul out of this evening’s chaos? Of course not. They’re putting all the characters’ issues front and center, much to the participants’ chagrin but our amusement. 

Jack invites his literary agent, Brett (Danny Pudi), and Brett’s stony-faced girlfriend (Maggie Q) over for the celebration. Unbeknownst to Jack, Lisa invites Paul and his Aussie date (Cleopatra Coleman). Awkwardness ensues, shortly followed by disaster. 

After the air runs out of the evening’s balloon and everyone leaves, the heat turns up an extra notch when Jack and Lisa choose to host the same gathering the next night and redo it, over and over, until they can reach an agreement. 

The situation is otherworldly absurdism at its finest. The repeated social experiment starts crazy from the beginning and only gets more extreme as the week goes on, but each repeat brings out the brilliance behind the madness. Watching the scenes play out time and time again really digs into the complex nature of arguments, relationships, and other people’s perspectives. It also ups the ante by poking fun at the ostentatious egos that work in entertainment. You know the showy type who go about honing their craft in elaborate ways? I mean, what it must be like to live with a screenwriter who constantly finds discoveries in life that would be well suited for a screenplay? And what it must be like to live with an actor who does silly exercises to flesh out characters? (Expect a few sheep baas and wolf howls.) The entertainment industry is a wacky arena that brings together many unique personalities with their unique way of doing things, and Schwartzman clearly enjoys playing in that sandbox.

If uncomfortable humor does not sit well with you, the first party will undoubtedly test your limitations. But honestly, if you can handle all the episodes of THE OFFICE, you will push through it and look back on the rest of the flick more fondly because of what precedes it. 

Watching the friends reenact the night and remember each other’s words and mimic each other’s mannerisms is a joyous occasion, especially in the third act when Jack turns the party into a table read involving actors plucked from obscurity (and Craigslist) to bring a more objective perspective. The actors who audition for the friends’ parts will leave you in stitches, most notably Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who plays Paul. Each of the actors makes comical observations throughout the night about the friends’ true nature, for better or worse. But if you pause enough, you may even reevaluate your own actions.

THE ARGUMENT is a clever, wild ride. Schwartzman’s film achieves a twisted tenderness. Even with its most outrageous touches, such as one actor’s persistence to remove his shirt and another’s portrayal using a sock puppet, underneath the zaniness lurks a mighty impressive psychological and emotional analysis with both commitment and vision. Expect to enjoy its larger-than-life characters and laugh at its truth in irony.

Grade: B+

THE ARGUMENT is now playing in select theaters and available on demand.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.