The Baxter Review
By Shawn McKenzie 09/17/2005
I love it when a movie plays with a cliché in a specific genre of movie. Have you ever seen one of those chick flicks where a woman is engaged to a guy who is completely wrong for her, only to be swept off of her feet by a stranger who is perfect for her or an old boyfriend who has come back into her life? In the movie The Baxter, we follow the story of the jilted groom who is left back at the altar.
The movie begins at the end essentially. Tax accountant Elliot Wendall Sherman (writer/director Michael Showalter) is about to marry Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks), a rich high-profile fashion magazine editor, when her ex-boyfriend, Bradley Lake (Justin Theroux), a rich world-traveling geologist, shows up and stops the wedding, professing his undying love. She of course runs away with him, and abandons Elliot. We then flash back to a year and a half earlier. Elliot is a man who has actually been jilted several times in his life. His high school girlfriend, Kimberly (Abigail Wathen), left a young Elliot (Peter Stadlen) at a school dance for a guy named Max Webster (Gabriel Millman), whom she fell in love with. In college, his girlfriend Serena (Sarah Drew) left him for a guy named Tanner Bates (Chris Spain.) Finally, in business school, yet another girl stood him up, so he is a little gun-shy when it comes to dating. Elliot realizes that he is a Baxter, which is a term that his grandmother once told him to describe a nice guy who a woman has settled for and who will eventually be left for someone more exciting. He talks to a co-worker named Wendall Wimms (Zak Orth), his weird speed walking best friend named Ed (Michael Ian Black), his downstairs neighbor Stella (Catherine Lloyd Burns), and Elliot’s fellow Baxters (A.D. Miles, Joe Lo Truglio, Seth Herzog, and Jonathan Marc Sherman) from their neighborhood bar about his problem. He is an understandably lonely man, but that is about to change. First, he meets Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), an office temp and part-time singer from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, who has moved here to New York and likes to read the dictionary, which happens to be Elliot’s favorite pastime. The two flirt, and it seems that Elliot might be considering asking her out, but then he meets Caroline. She is looking for an accountant, and they fall in love with one another. They meet each other’s parents, who are Elliot’s dad Leonard (Jim DeMarse) and mom Sheila (Leslie Lyles), and Caroline’s dad Alan (Jon DeVries) and mom Judy (Donna Mitchell), along with Caroline’s sometimes-inappropriate brother Louis Lewis (David Wain.) Soon, they are engaged and are planning their wedding, including hiring an effeminate wedding consultant named Benson Hedges (Peter Dinklage.) A week before the blessed event though, Bradley shows up again in her life. He is going to Malta, but he just happens to bump into Caroline, with whom he still carries a torch for, despite the fact that he already has a girlfriend named Sonya Simmons (Katharine Powell.) After a fight with Caroline one night, Elliot decides to accept Cecil’s offer to watch her sing at a club and talk to her about his love life. Elliot tells her about his problems with Caroline, and she tells him about her boyfriend Dan Abbott (Paul Rudd), who doesn’t like to watch her sing. She calls him later after a fight with Dan and he invites her over to his place so she won’t be alone. They don’t sleep together, but that morning, they act guilty when Caroline shows up to discuss details of the wedding (Cecil hides and isn’t seen, though Benson notices that Elliot has accidentally put on Cecil’s panties, which turns the wedding planner on.) With Caroline re-falling in love with Bradley and Elliot falling for Cecil, we now understand why the event that takes place in the beginning of the movie happens.
Showalter has fashioned this movie to be reminiscent of ‘40s romantic comedies, like 1940’s The Philadelphia Story, or anything with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. All of the characters dress and act like characters from the ‘40s even though the movie takes place in the present. In fact, the only character that doesn’t do that is Black.
Speaking of Black, he, along with Showalter and Wain, created the Comedy Central show “Stella,” named after their three-man touring sketch troupe. It’s a show that really grew on me, and I hope that the network renews it for a second season. Too bad Black didn’t have much of a presence though in this movie, but I’ve always thought he was the most annoying thing about NBC’s “Ed.”
This movie is all about Showalter though. This is his directorial debut, and I’m amazed how good it is. He resisted the urge to make it raunchy, which really helped in this case. Aside from Showalter’s performance, his two leading ladies were great. Banks proved that she was more than just the hottie from the bookstore in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Williams, along with James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson, have proven that they are talented actors that can be in projects not associated with the WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” (the same can’t be said for poor Katie Holmes though.) The ex/current boyfriends, Theroux and Rudd, both steal the show. They act like goofy cads, and they both overplay their parts in the positive sense.
The Baxter is a good spin on a tired genre. It’s one of those movies that make you think, “Yeah…what happened to that guy after the movie ended?” I don’t want to give away the end, but stick around for the credits. You will see the fate of one of the other characters in the movie other than the main leads. Elliot may not get the girl in the beginning, but Showalter will get many movie-going fans in the end.
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