Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2021)
Probably best-known as Selina Meyers’ loyal “bag man” Gary on Veep, 2021’s Eat Wheaties! grants Tony Hale a shot at a lead role. Don’t expect him to leave his comedic home base, though.
In his youth, Sid Straw (Hale) attended the University of Pennsylvania, and he finds himself excited that he gets to help organize a class reunion. As it happens, Sid attended at the same time as actor/director Elizabeth Banks, and he dated one of Banks’ sorority sisters at Penn.
Sid becomes obsessed with the possibility that he could get Banks to attend the reunion, and he goes over the line with his attempts to reach her. Though he meant these inquiries in an innocent manner, his messages come back to haunt him and send him down a windy path.
That synopsis probably makes Eat sound more like a serious drama than a broad comedy. Suffice it to say that the film shoots for laughs, with socially inept sad sack Sid as the primary butt, though it also aims for a bit of pathos.
Via Veep and Arrested Development, Hale usually specializes in awkward roles. This means Sid ends up in his standard wheelhouse.
While Hale’s characters work well as supporting parts, they become less entertaining when cast in the lead – or at least that becomes the case for Sid. Though the movie wants us to empathize with Sid, this seems nearly impossible.
For most of Eat, we see Sid as almost impossibly clueless. He comes across as a buffoon so dim-witted it seems difficult to imagine he gained admittance into Cecil’s Junior College, much less an Ivy League school, and his behaviors feel more like “creep” than “lovable loser”.
Sid seems so awkward and weird that he becomes unsympathetic, and that feels like a fatal flaw for this movie. Eat wants us to connect to Sid, but we never find that as a possibility due to his irreparable oddness.
Via his much more normal brother Tom (David Walton), Eat tries to explain that Sid used to be pretty normal but various circumstances changed him. This seems like a weak attempt to rationalize Sid’s strangeness, and it doesn’t work.
Honestly, Tom’s expository discussion feels like a reshoot attempt to fix this major problem with Eat. I get the impression the filmmakers eventually realized how little connection the audience made with Sid so they threw out this two-bit explanation to correct this issue.
It doesn’t work. Sid remains so obnoxious and impossibly weird that nothing will make the audience bond with him.
Of course, Eat eventually tries to turn the loser into a winner, as the movie changes course as it goes. Though Sid remains absolutely oblivious to his strange, creepy behavior, he suddenly does a 180.
This feels like much too much of a curveball, and it becomes impossible to accept that Weird Creepy Sid suddenly morphs into a likable, self-aware success story. Eat never earns Sid’s growth, as he magically fixes his problems with nary a real-life justification.
All of this leaves Eat as annoying for its first two acts and trite and unbelievable for the rest. Even with a nice cast, the end result just doesn’t work.