Has there been any more cliched and revered a profession on screen as the writer? As well as the recent rash of stories about journalists changing the world like in “Spotlight” and “The Post”, there are as many stories depicting someone sitting in a room staring at a blank sheet of paper or screen, tearing leaves out of typewriters in frustration, putting off starting by going for coffee, etc.
When sitting down to watch any movie about writers, you wonder where it can go that you haven’t already seen, especially when scenes like the one above are included early on. Instead, “Fits and Starts” goes in some unexpected directions – not all of them successful – and while it has its charms, it’s more an extended sitcom than anything.
David (Wyatt Cenac) and his beautiful girlfriend Jennifer (Great Lee) are a classic modern hipster couple. She’s Asian American, he’s African American, she’s just hit the charts as a successful novelist, he wears buttoned down plaid shirts and has trouble holding a conversation, tics that seem to contrast with his unruly afro.
David’s supportive but slightly jealous of Jennifer’s success, making for all kinds of fairly eye-rolling tropes we’ve seen in a million movies about writers (they’re filled with petty evny and self doubt, really?), but it doesn’t go where you think it will.
When the pair are invited to a party as the stately country house of Jennifer’s publishers, the comedy of errors that ensues as they try to get out of New York, buy wine for the gathering and actually get there sees them separated out in the sticks thanks to fairly contrived comic circumstances. David makes his way to the party alone, hoping Jennifer will be there and when she isn’t, but of course she isn’t, wandering around somewhere completely different waiting for him.
When he gets there, it’s only to endure a procession of awful people of the type he wanted to avoid by not going to the party at all. There’s the talent-free musicians doing performance art in the parlour, a sexually predatory agent, a publisher and supposed friend of Jennifer and David’s who delivers a blow to his career and many more.
What you thought was going to be a very New York story about intellectuals and their emotional response to each other as their careers develop turns into a single night and a party full of pretentious artistes. And while that has the potential to make “Fits and Starts” something you weren’t expecting, and while there are laughs, it all ends up feeling a bit episodic and doesn’t quite mine the potential of the plot.