Mr. Jealousy

on June 05, 1998 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Noah Baumbach's follow up to his wonderful first film, "Kicking and Screaming," stumbles a bit but still offers much of his wise, witty banter. Eric Stoltz stars as Lester, a drifting intellectual who has a real problem with jealousy, stemming from an incident when he was 15. So each new girlfriend is examined, as if under a microscope, until Lester destroys the relationship. When he meets the vivacious Ramona (Anabella Sciorra), the pattern seems set, especially when Lester ends up impersonating his best friend Vince in order to join a therapy group and get close to Ramona's ex-boyfriend, Dashiell (Chris Eigeman), a best-selling young author.
   He may be traversing "Diner" territory at times, with characters from Woody Allen's milieu, but Baumbach is a true original. "Mr. Jealousy" is never glib and, at its best, its trenchant observations about relationships ring true. As the jealous Lester, Stoltz shines, likable even at his most machiavellian.
   Eigeman, too, is never a stock figure; he is allowed depths and emotions that a lesser film might have denied him. Carlos Jacott as the impersonated Vince, who decides that he can benefit from Lester's therapy, is a real hoot and almost steals the film. Marianne Jean-Baptiste ("Secrets & Lies") as Lucretia, Vince's fiancee, and Bridget Fonda as Dashiell's shy girlfriend, are also very fine.
   The film's weak link is Baumbach's depiction of the relationship between Lester and Ramona. It's supposed to be a passionate one but seems stillborn in the movie. The chemistry between the two leads is absent and in its concentration on Lester's neuroses, Ramona's personality is left in the dust.
   That imbalance mars "Mr. Jealousy," but its virtues more than compensate for its flaws. At a time when so many young filmmakers can only reference other movies, Baumbach's films, pleasingly, come out of real life.    Starring Eric Stoltz, Anabella Sciorra and Chris Eigeman. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Produced by Joel Castleberg. A Lions Gate release. Comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 103 min.
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