So maybe I’m just maturing (doubtful), but given the recently-released movies hitting theaters over the past week as yet unseen by me, there was one far more interesting to me than the one where Angelina Jolie and Young Gary Sinise run around shooting bullets in all different directions while Morgan Freeman does his wisdom thing.

I was much more curious to see Finding Amanda, which opened last Friday in limited release. This was a movie written and directed by Peter Tolan, who is one of my writing heroes. He has written for TV for years, probably most notably for the legendary Larry Sanders Show. More recently, with Denis Leary, he has written The Job, an under-rated short-lived series, and Fort Pit, a cop-show pilot that I read but never saw and I wish got picked up, and best of all, Rescue Me, which is just about my favorite television show ever.

I love Rescue Me better than most movies even. I’m willing to relent and describe it as ‘a soap opera for real men’ – a contradiction in terms, maybe, but few artistic achievements, filmed or otherwise, capture the heights and depths of life so incisively. Sometimes right after the saddest moment you’ve ever experienced comes the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you, and sometimes it’s the other way around. That’s just been my experience of life. So I dig seeing it reflected on such a well-made program. The first couple seasons of the show are as good as anything out there, and the missteps or flaws of Season Four only serve to back up the assessment of the show as reflecting life’s disappointments and imperfections. So far the summer “mini-sodes” that FX is running have been a lot of fun – go to and search them out for a sampler of what Rescue Me has to offer.

In addition to his twin black-belts in the art of writing comedy and drama, I’m inspired by Tolan’s productivity – in addition to this movie, it was just announced that he is producing a new Showtime series for Matthew Perry – although it does make me wonder what that means for Season Five of my favorite show, which already isn’t coming back until Spring 2009. And I’m also inspired by the consistence of the quality that he and Leary have instilled in their projects together.

The thing about me is, as we will learn over the lifespan of this blog: I’m real damn loyal to the entertainers that can consistently brighten my day with their work. You tell me that Tolan has written and directed a new movie, and I’m there, opening weekend if I can.

So, Finding Amanda:

Here’s the story in a nutshell – Matthew Broderick plays a sardonic television producer who has successfully given up booze but unsuccessfully given up gambling. He loves gambling. Doesn’t much want to stop. He sandwiches therapy sessions with afternoons at the racetrack, lying to his long-suffering wife (Maura Tierney) about what he’s doing. When she finds out that her 20-year-old niece has moved to Vegas and is turning tricks, Broderick pledges to bring the girl back to California and take her to rehab on his own dime. He does this under the guise of trying to do one good thing for his wife, but he’s really just looking for an uninterrupted weekend of betting the horses. Never mind that he’s due the next evening to be at the shoot for his last-chance producing job. Never mind the realities of finance.

Finding Amanda is definitely constructed in the Sideways mold – a smaller-scaled story where a sophisticated but deeply troubled character travels to new locations where he interacts with much less sophisticated (but just as troubled) characters. I don’t think it will be placed up on the shelf of critical regard where Sideways resides, but it does have a similar spirit, mood, and attention to character detail.

Matthew Broderick carries the movie as a character not too far removed from his role of the emasculated sad-sack in Election, and I have to say, he’s getting a little too good at this kind of thing. It’s kind of tough to see Ferris Bueller (or the valiant monkey-sympathizer from Project X) grown down into an angry, pudgy loser, especially when he still has hardly shed his youthful looks. Broderick’s character is hard pressed to do anything to stop his downward slide on the rare occasions in which he tries.

Let’s just say that not all of watching this movie is a knee-slapper.

I haven’t seen Brittany Snow in a movie before – I guess she’s played in a lot of teen movies and TV shows, but she gives a real solid, and frankly, kind of scary, performance in the title role. When Broderick finally runs into her, she doesn’t want to be saved. In fact it never crosses her mind that she needs to be. This depiction says plenty about the hypersexualization of the generation coming up now, and without dragging out the apple box for speechifying, it’s a statement worth considering.

Also, the British comedian Steve Coogan has a good extended cameo as a casino pit boss who may or may not be as callous and disingenuous as his job description requires.

To be honest, I’m not writing this to convince anyone to go see this movie – it’s not going to win any awards, nor will it end up on anyone’s list of favorites. It’s not even really as funny as I would have expected based on the credits of its makers. But still I liked this movie, if that counts for anything. It feels genuinely-felt – no Hollywood bullshit, as they say. There are no real villains – well okay, maybe a couple, but even they feel like people you know or could meet. It’s just a clear-headed and direct look at a few troubled characters and how, in their short time spent together, they have an impact on each others’ lives (or don’t). I think it’s worth a look, if you get the chance.