Looking back at The Marc Pease Experience, I had to wonder if any of the three main characters interacted with each other. I came to the conclusion that they each spent at least one, sometimes two scenes with at least one of the other protagonists, but that’s it. It’s weird to see a film almost completely devoid of interaction between key players, and it’s one of the main reasons that this film doesn’t end up working to any recognizable degree.
Ostensibly, the lead is Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman), as we follow him for the majority of the film. He’s a former high school a cappella star, whose band now only consists of four out of the original eight members. This is a delusional man. He thinks he’s still in high school. He’s dating one of our other main characters, Meg (Anna Kendrick), although we only seem them together a couple of times — once at the beginning and once at the end; maybe there’s a time in the middle, but I don’t remember it. He is eight years removed from going to this school. I can’t be the only one finding this just a little bit creepy.
Our third character is another person who doesn’t understand what leaving high school is, the school’s drama teacher, Mr. Gribble (Ben Stiller). Gribble once told Marc that if Marc’s band ever wanted to record a demo, he’d help produce it. As a result, Marc continues to try to contact his “mentor,” despite Gribble not actually wanting to have anything to do with him. Gribble is currently in the process of directing the school’s play, a very impressive production of The Wiz — a musical version of The Wizard of Oz, for those unaware..
Now, Gribble seems like he’s just a grownup version of Marc Pease. Many of the personality traits found in one is also found in the other. Both are living in the past, and both are unable to give up the spotlight. The film does nothing with this concept, by the way; you’re left to make any possible connection by yourself. Initially I thought that director/writer Todd Louiso was attempting subtlety, but without any mention whatsoever, I can only assume he could only write one type of male character.
Of course, the only important female isn’t written any better. She wants to quit singing, or maybe she doesn’t — it doesn’t matter and it’s unclear; she changes her mind on a whim. By the end of the film she’ll have made a decision, but how she arrived at the conclusion makes absolutely no sense to us, because we haven’t been given even a semblance of genuine character throughout The Marc Pease Experience.
Very little of the film makes sense, really, because we have no idea why these characters act the way they do. We can almost understand why Marc is still holding on to his childhood spotlight — he choked on-stage during a prior performance of The Whiz and might be trying to make amends for that — but because the film gives us no insight into his head, or, indeed, the minds of any of the characters presented to us, there’s no way to determine this. You can only guess, and when you have so little to go on, guessing accomplishes very little.
I mentioned earlier that the characters have very few interactons with other ones who are given names. This is true. Most of the time, they talk to extras about nothing in particular, or they sit alone in periods of self-reflection. Reflecting on what, exactly, is and will remain a mystery to us. I mean, is it too much to ask to at least understand where these characters are coming from? Even when all of the revelations occur — none of which change anything, by the way — you won’t be enlightened on the events that transpired earlier.
For what’s supposed to be a compelling drama/comedy, there aren’t exactly many instances of this. Since characters rarely interact with each other, there’s no possibility of good drama. There are a couple of funny parts — the opening scene is kind of enjoyable, and many of Ben Stiller’s scenes are at least tolerable because he’s moderately funny — but not enough to hold your attention. There also isn’t a large number of musical scenes, although that might be appreciated by many potential audience members.
The actors often look lost, and they’re forced to utter dialogue that both sounds stupid and doesn’t have purpose. Since they rarely get to act across from any other “big name,” you can kind of understand why they don’t turn in great performances. Ben Stiller, Jason Schwartzman and Anna Kendrick are all strong talents, but, particularly in regards to the last two, none of that talent is utilized here. Stiller gets the only laughs, and they’re few and far between.
The Marc Pease Experience isn’t even an enjoyable one. It’s dreary, filled with characters who are both unlikable and have nonexistent personalities, all of whom do things for no discernible reason. They don’t get to interact with each other, they don’t get lines that make any sense, and any depth they have has to be guessed or assumed by the audience. It’s not funny, and it makes good actors look awful in the process. Forget that The Marc Pease Experience exists.