The first few scenes are not positive ones for the protagonist of Weakness, an English teacher named Josh (Bobby Cannavale). In the first scene, he learns that his mother is dying of cancer. He is told he’ll now have to take care of his mentally impaired brother, Pete (Keith Nobbs). A couple of scenes later, mother commits suicide, leaving Josh and his wife, Elizabeth (June Diane Raphael), a run-down home. Josh wants to fix it up and promptly falls off the roof, breaking his leg in the process. Before long, his wife leaves him, his best friend hates him, and his entire life seems to be completely falling apart.
Now, this isn’t the plot or hook of Weakness; it’s the entire point. The film is a 100-minute train wreck detailing a few months in the life of a man who has no idea how to slow down the downfall of his own life. He is alone, taking solace only in a brother who (seemingly) cannot understand. Weakness is a portrait of this man’s solitude, his confusion and feeling of helplessness strongly brought through in the directorial debut of Michael Melamedoff.
In a lot of ways, the film is an unpleasant watch. Josh is generally a nice guy, but his passive, do-nothing demeanor is often quite frustrating to see. We want to see him get up off that couch — once his leg is healed, of course — and start fixing up his life, not the house. But he never really starts doing either until very late in the film; for the majority of Weakness‘ running time, Josh just sort of hopes that life will get better on its own.
It’s hard to sum up Weakness because it doesn’t follow traditional story or character arcs. It’s a contemplative character piece, if anything. It makes you, the viewer, feel like its protagonist does. I think that’s why it presents almost every other character as unlikable or unhelpful. From the cheating wife to the jerk of a best friend, the supporting cast members are all shown as people you don’t want to be around. And they’re like that because the lead character doesn’t want to be around him; his perception is swaying the way we see them.
Maybe that’s giving Weakness more credit than it deserves, but I think that point is valid. Take, for instance, the brief point in the film when Elizabeth becomes the central character, and she’s portrayed as more sympathetic and complicated during this point in the film. But as soon as we once again focus on Josh, her complexity is negated and she simply becomes the “cheating wife.” His perspective influences what we see and how we feel about it.
That wouldn’t work without smart filmmaking and a good performance from the lead actor. Shifting the “objective” perspective of the camera to the more “subjective” one of the lead character can be tough to pull off, but it works well here, assuming that’s actually what happened. Having your brain try to reconcile this can be difficult and I can see a lot of people disliking Weakness as a result. “I hate everyone in the film,” you might say, to which I would respond that the feeling you have is a good thing, as it’s what was intended.
Bobby Cannavale is an actor that most people won’t have heard of. He’s been in a couple of films you might have seen — in small roles, admittedly — but he’s not a household name. Here, he has a very subdued presence, and it works very well. He plays an incredibly nice man, but we get a sense of his imperfections through the nuances in his performance. There’s only one scene where his character bursts — following a near-car crash — and this outburst is scary because of both the seemingly gentle nature and because we’ve kind of seen it coming thanks to Cannavale’s performance.
The supporting cast is up to the task, although since they’re almost all simple and unlikable characters, the actors aren’t given a whole lot to do. June Diane Raphael is given the most complicated secondary role, if only because of the brief moment when she becomes our lead. Second billing actually goes to Danielle Panabaker, even though save for an early cameo, she only appears in the film’s final 30 minutes. Did she only agree to take the role if she got second billing?
Weakness is one of those independent dramas — the studio lists it as a comedy/drama but it’s not funny and doesn’t try to be; misrepresenting your film isn’t a good idea, Osiris — that tries to do a little bit different and succeeds because of that. It has good actors, an intriguing story, and will make you feel like its main character does, which speaks to its effectiveness. I didn’t so much “like” Weakness as I appreciated it. It’s not really a pleasant watch but it’s a good one. I think it’s worth seeing.