Little Death is almost too ambitious and too peculiar to work at all — almost. The feature debut from writer/director Jack Begert feels like a mixture of the Safdie Brothers‘ Good Time and Adam McKay‘s infamous editing and pacing style with a sprinkle of Ari Aster‘s Beau Is Afraid. And while all of that sounds intriguing as hell — because, well, it is — it doesn’t necessarily make for a totally coherent work of the critical exploration of humanity’s deadly sin of addiction.
The film is ultimately a tale of two halves — the first being a story that follows Martin Soloman, a begrudgingly bothersome Hollywood-pilled TV writer on the long-running NBC comedy show ‘The Switch’. He hates his job; he hates his fiance’s neck mole; he hates his life. He consistently fantasizes about beautiful women and a feeling of success — neither of which appears in his real life.
As he is writing his first movie script while he makes the illustriously famed jump from sitcom television to the silver screen, he is met with nightmarish delusions of stabbing his eyes out with pencils or putting his mangy mutt in a blender. Wild stuff. When he marvelously lands an investor company for his script, he is met with a key revision from the staff — alter his semi-autobiographical script about his childhood and trauma to feature a woman protagonist.
‘Little Death’ Is Addicted to Its Own Madness
Begert’s script is razor-sharp, seeing Schwimmer take complete control of the hectic tone and sporadic energy that is the foundation of a movie that leans on AI-generated montages of madness that play between scenes. This Adam McKay-esque storytelling style works wonders between Schwimmer’s monotone, depressed voiceovers and Gaby Hoffmann’s electric performance as the female Martin.
Of course, Martin is addicted to the plethora of medications — Oxycontin, Vicodin, Rogaine — that he needs just to get through a day as a writer. The film’s attempt to pin down relevant themes like our addiction to pills, stress, wokeness, and the cracks in the societal system are not entirely frivolous yet feel two sizes too big for the movie being put on the screen. Martin’s last-minute decision to skip out on a vacation to Costa Rica with his fiancée finds him hiding in a closet, using a high heel as a potential defense, as his home is robbed for his pills — a heavy-handed nod to the timely themes being explored.
This is where the film genuinely descends into a distinctly different story and feel — a story about two best friends in Dominic Fike (who is quite stupendous) and Talia Ryder. They are on a night mission through LA to recover their stolen car and belongings after a robbery gone wrong. The robbery gone wrong? Martin’s pill robbery. The two narratives are not completely disconnected and actually offer astute insight into juxtaposing positions of the same side of the societal coin. With that being said, this is the Good Time meets the vibe of Spring Breakers section of the movie where emotions are high, drug dealers are pulling out pistols, and brunch is considered a state of mind.
Contradictory to the first half of the film, Little Death‘s back half is much more grounded and conventional. This stark separation of narrative style is jolting, to say the least. Begert’s connective tissue is on display but it’s hard to not believe there was too much he was trying to say with the medium he chose to use. Perhaps one story or the other would have been best suited to occupy the entirety of the fairly scant 110-minute runtime. On the other hand, Begert shows off his creative abilities with colossal creative decisions that already have me excited to see what he does next.
Little Death is anything but little. The thematic pinpoints are so vast that it’s hard not to jump around from point to point in a hectic daze. Perhaps that’s the point. A script caving in on itself to ensure its existence isn’t in vain. “I wonder which one of us has more regrets,” mentions Martin in one of his melancholic voiceovers. Certainly not Begert and the team behind this film. And at the end of the day, addictions to pain, fame, and misery aside, that’s something to recognize.
'Little Death' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review'Little Death' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review
- Ambitious, thematically-heavy script give a lot to chew on.
- Electric performance lead by Gaby Hoffmann and Dominic Fike.
- Two starkly different "movies" in the first and second half is jarring.
- Too many ideas fit into one film to really dig into anything of meaning.