During their 260-block journey down the island of Manhattan, the four friends in Growing Up and Other Lies engage in a lot of banter and bickering. The characters are all in their late twenties and early thirties, yet common conversation topics include erections and defecating in bathtubs. A running joke throughout the 90-minute film is a “would you rather” situation that one of the characters poses to his friends. “I’m not playing that game,” says the embittered Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac), as his three companions debate the choice they would take. “I find it childish and silly.”
As the title suggests and their infantile talks further prove, the film is dealing with men who still behave like children, resistant to move beyond the glory years of their high-school friendship and take responsibility for their own lives. That is likely the writers’ intention: to treat the characters as if they were belligerent high schoolers, selfish and easily seduced by the appeal of scatological humor. (This is a film where the characters have matured to an extent that they do a toast on the corners of Seaman Ave. and Cumming St.) From their frank rudeness toward strangers to their sarcasm and hostility to each other, this pack of pals is dull and deeply unpleasant to be around for even five minutes. In a “would you rather” game of choosing to see either Growing Up and Other Lies or any other film playing in theaters right now, you should pick the latter.
Jake (Josh Lawson, from House of Lies) is a struggling artist who plans to leave New York and return to his Ohio home to take care of his ill father and find a paying job. To celebrate his departure – as well as try to convince Jake to stay in the Big Apple – old friends Rocks (Adam Brody), Billy (co-writer/director Jacobs) and the aforementioned Gunderson decide to traverse the entire island of Manhattan. They catch breaks at museums and a cathedral, crash a child’s birthday party in Central Park and bicker about their careers and relationships in well-worn ways.
The idea of walking down Manhattan works as a sunny travelogue. However, the four characters doing the walk are not compelling or original, ensuring that the picturesque neighborhoods end up stealing the show. If there is any main plot to accompany this 15-mile hike, it is when Jake hears that ex-girlfriend Tabatha (Amber Tamblyn) is single again. He wants to leave his friends to go and rekindle some of the passion before he leaves for Ohio. In other subplots, Rocks – yes, that is his nickname – is a high-school teacher in a fractured relationship with very pregnant fiancée, Emma (Lauren Miller). Meanwhile, Billy is a successful lawyer, despite his milquetoast demeanor, who feels guilty taking the day off work just as his firm needs him to deal with a merger.
As for Cenac’s character, he has no discernible story of his own, and walks around saying pithy things toward the three other characters. Gunderson seems less like a character than a critic who stands around to mock his friends’ inept qualities and roll his eyes. He also has a Magritte-like tattoo on his back that reads, “This is not a tattoo.” Gunderson often seems like a last-minute addition to the screenplay, like a one-man Greek chorus dryly commentating on his friends’ shortcomings. However droll his delivery, Cenac comes off as charmless.
Growing Up and Other Lies often takes detours to deal with its various subplots, which feature a number of conveniences and coincidences. Rocks makes a brief stop at the school he teaches at, and Emma shows up to confront him just before he leaves. Billy’s uneasiness ditching his firm to spend the day with his pals goes down a similarly contrived route, especially when the friends walk by the place he works. Jake also gets the chance to plot revenge on a rival painter when he conveniently staggers into his foe’s exhibit.
Of the four actors, only Lawson, an Australian pulling out a whiz-bang American accent, makes much of an impression. Brody’s Rocks never looks too anguished during his scenes with Emma, while Jacobs’ Billy, who recalls a neurotic late-1960s Woody Allen, is more enervating than endearing. Since its characters are so difficult to like, the emotional beats from the screenplay’s final third fail to resonate much.
For all of the lively banter, though, Growing Up and Other Lies barely manages to generate laughs or anything that comes close to wit. One of the only mildly amusing scenes in the film features an Episcopalian priest played by 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit, who Jake sits with to find some answers to what he deems as an “existential crisis.” (As other characters tell Jake, his pining after an ex-girlfriend and double-thinking his decision to move from New York City is not an existential crisis.) That priest gives Jake the advice to convert some of his analytic energy to kinetic energy. Given the film’s stilted pacing and over-written dialogue exchanges, one wishes Jacobs and Grodsky had done the same with their screenplay.
In the opening scene from Growing Up and Other Lies, Jake vomits off the side of a bridge. “What did you think about to make yourself throw up?” one of his friends asks. “The future,” he snipes back. If he was thinking about the unfunny, unpleasant, unfocused drama that the film’s audience is about to sit through, he had a point.
With putrid characters and pedestrian plotting, Growing Up and Other Lies is a thoroughly unpleasant comedy.