An egotistical main character can pose a serious threat to a movie’s appeal. If there’s nothing likeable about the lead, how are you expected to enjoy the film? That person doesn’t have to be a saint, but if there is enough good to outweigh the bad, their story is worth watching. Luckily, Multiple Sarcasms’ Gabriel (Timothy Hutton) just makes the cut.
Gabriel is feeling shitty, but doesn't really have a reason to feel shitty - yet. He's got a beautiful wife (Dana Delany), bright daughter (India Ennenga), devoted best friend (Mira Sorvino) and a successful career, but can't appreciate a single one of them. Instead he opts to hide from his responsibilities at the movie theater, avoids most social interaction and is consumed by his latest venture, writing a play loosely based on his relationships with these women.
But instead of clarifying his troubles, the play makes it clear that Gabriel is simply unhappy. Even worse, he can't figure out why. As his play transitions from a hobby to something that makes him spend endless hours in the bathroom on his typewriter, Gabriel's troubles consume his life, leading to the deterioration of his relationships and job, really giving him something to be unhappy about.
Yes, everybody has problems and yes, everyone is guilty of whining about tribulations that don't really exist, but Gabriel is just oozing with self-pity. Fine, wallow in your own sorrow for a bit, but at some point, you've got to snap out of it and at least try to improve your situation. But nope, Gabriel continues to mope and worst of all, make the people around him miserable as well. Hutton puts in a rather good performance, managing to take a wholly unlikable guy with a tendency to hurt the film’s more likable characters and actually make him the slightest bit endearing. You want him to snap out of it, you want him to be happy and you want him to finish his play.
Gabriel’s effort to reflect on his relationships, the play, is what keeps the whole film together. When his self indulgence is too much to bear, at least there's his passion project to hold your attention. Writer/director Brooks Branch weaves the play into the film’s storyline in a way that keeps you in tune with the play’s development. From the first word to the last, you're along for the entire ride and feel as invested in the work as Gabriel himself. Still, the film's correlation with the play often makes it feel stagey and the hefty dose of melodrama doesn't help either.
Everyone is just in so much misery that it can suck the life out of you. At first Delany is glowing as Gabriel's wife, Annie, but is soon heaved into the black hole that is her husband, stripping the character of all originality and just becoming the typical burned wife. Then there's the little girl, Lizzy, eyes dimmed by daddy's sadness and forced to ask trite sad sap questions like, "Why were you sad at Mom's party?" Ennenga is a talented young actress and attempts to give Lizzy a heart, but in the end she’s just a typical wiser-than-her-years little girl used to force the story along.
Thankfully Sorvino's character, Cari, brings some pep into the story. She's the fun loving best friend who takes Lizzy to a rock concert when mom and dad need alone time. The things she does and says are absolutely ludicrous, but it's impossible not to wish you had a friend like Cari.
The two elements that are complete misfires are the film’s setting and a few dream sequences. It’s 1979, but minus Gabriel’s boss’ hairdo, you’re never provided with enough visually to believe it. Gabriel’s daydreams go to the opposite extreme, these elaborate, flamboyant moments that feel completely out of place and lack a purpose.
But the primary reason it's hard to like Multiple Sarcasms is Gabriel. The filmmaking, acting and the soundtrack are enough to justify watching it, but Gabriel is such an unlikable lead that while the film is entertaining, it’s hard to enjoy. If anything, see this movie to improve your sense of self and realize that there are people out there with far more serious issues than you.