I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With (IFC FirstTake), the gentle, meandering directorial debut of Jeff Garlin, unfolds like a complementary companion piece to Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose sixth season premieres this Sunday. Garlin (who executive-produces, co-stars in, and occasionally directs the HBO show) has a comic persona that’s diametrically opposed to that of Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld. Their comedy springs from their essential coldness, an almost alien disconnection from the behavioral codes of the world around them. Garlin, on the other hand, is warm, vulnerable, and eager for social acceptance. He’s less given to misanthropic rage than to rueful self-loathing. It’s hard at first to accept Garlin, who’s essentially Larry David’s Sancho Panza, as a leading man, much less a romantic one, but once you do, entering into this movie’s quiet, syncopated rhythm has its rewards.
I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, which started out as a Second City stage production by the same name, rambles amiably around Chicago in the company of James (Garlin), an overweight 39-year-old actor who lives with his mother (Mina Kolb), binges on junk food on the hood of his car, can’t get a movie gig to save his life, and hasn’t had sex in five years. “I like ‘em young and insane,” James tells his best friend Luca (David Pasquesi)—and he gets his wish when, bailing on an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, he’s propositioned by a cute ice cream store clerk named Beth (Sarah Silverman). At least, he thinks it’s a proposition: Out of the blue, she asks if he’s ever given a girl a “hoagie shack,” which, she helpfully explains, involves “sandwiching your weiner between the bosoms of a lady.” Later, in the middle of what may or may not be their first date, she suddenly proposes shopping for lingerie together. Is Beth a once-in-a-lifetime Penthouse Forum dream come true or an exhibitionistic nut bag?
Garlin’s character eventually figures that out, but the movie never quite does. No fiction film has yet known what to do with Sarah Silverman’s peculiar combination of gifts: those nice-Jewish-girl looks, that filthy mind, that dangerously manic energy. The same quicksilver weirdness that animates her standup comedy chafes in the constraints of a character role. One scene, in which James and Beth flirt by improvising skits in the aisle of a convenience store, manages to harness that weirdness in the service of the plot. But as their affair progresses, her character’s motivations become more and more obscure. Ultimately, Beth is just a kooky chick for James to discuss with his friends as they wander the streets in search of a decent waffle house.
Lucky for the audience, that aimless drifting is pretty fun to watch. Cheese is a virtual reunion of veterans of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, with gifted comics like Dan Castellanata, Joey Slotnick, and Amy Sedaris in every role. David Pasquesi, a lanky Adrien Brody type who plays James’ dryly funny best friend, could easily carry a movie on his own. At 80 minutes long, I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With feels more like a series of skits than a movie, though it does tie up several plot threads in a lyrical last scene worthy of vintage Woody Allen. It’s not clear whether or not Garlin’s James ever finds his longed-for cheese-nibbling companion, but there’s a genuine (and distinctly un-Larry Davidesque) sweetness to his quest for love.