‘Lousy Carter’ Review: Blackboard Bungle

‘Lousy Carter’ Review: Blackboard Bungle

Death be not tragic in “Lousy Carter,” a repellently watchable curiosity from the Austin cult filmmaker Bob Byington. Carter (David Krumholtz) is a self-involved literature professor with little interest in his students, his family, and his past and present lovers. So when he’s given six months to live, no one cares. Turn the concept of a laugh-out-loud comedy inside-out and you’ll have a feel for Byington’s sense of humor: a sustained cruel hum, the room tone of a crypt.

There are no hugs here, no lessons to glean before dying, not even anything as impassioned as despair. Carter fills his final days dully scrolling his phone during cold conversations with his ex-wife (Olivia Thirlby), his mistress (Jocelyn DeBoer) and her husband (Martin Starr), his supposed best friend. Even Carter’s analyst (Stephen Root) is unmoved during one of the rare times Carter opens up about his pressurized childhood and squandered life. “At least you had a father,” the therapist snaps.

Between the hammering misanthropy, the herky-jerky editing and almost defiantly crummy sound mix, this exasperating film keeps you enjoyably off-balance. At one point, I could swear Byington had locked us inside a narcissist’s head as a challenge, like a cinematic escape room; later, the movie seems to yearn to be a graphic novel so the audience can soak in the malaise (and catch the visual gags that don’t quite land). Perhaps the point lies with the caustic grad student who Carter attempts to bed as his last great hurrah. Gail (Luxy Banner) has zero respect for his underwhelming pontifications on Vladimir Nabokov and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She’s bored with taking male ennui seriously — and the film feels the same way.

Lousy Carter
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.

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