by Ben Marques
New York University alumni Jeff Kaplan and Ian Springer have crafted an undeniably charming debut feature in “Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship.” After Bert (Matt Oberg) discovers Arnie (Stephen Schneider) is sleeping with his wife, an odd relationship forms between the two men as each begins using the other to get to the same girl (Anna Chlumsky).
In an interview with WSN, it was clear how genuine their efforts were in creating this film. It was born out of their own understanding of friendship that only time and experience could have developed. The two have been friends for years and have collaborated frequently since leaving NYU.
I was fortunate enough to walk into this film without any preconceived notions, which is rare in a time where media tends to assault you, whether it be on the internet or from a passionate individual yelling it on the street corner. What was familiar to me, however, was the story—an odd couple bromance with an obligatory love triangle. What appears run of the mill on the page was absolutely refreshing to witness in this incarnation on the screen.
Arnie is the nebbish author who, for all his scholastic achievement, is more or less still a child, while Bert is the egotistical womanizer who works in a vague office under his new boss, the aforementioned Sabrina. Everyone in the cast knows what they are doing. They know the characters, they know their types, and, as a result, every single performance enables the film to transcend the bounds of familiarity.
Matt Oberg anchors this film with his dry wit and inherent silliness. His timing is vicious, while the magnetism Stephen Schneider brings is the perfect energy to balance Arnie. He effectively portrays Bert’s unbearable smugness in the vein of humanity. A relatable asshole, if you will. Anna Chlumsky is the perfect female for both men, managing to be both seductive and authoritative in a completely believable manner. Now that’s dangerous.
The fruition of their labor through this film is truly extraordinary. Their willingness to present a story they love with skill and attention to detail is admirable. There is nothing pretentious or juvenile in the work, and that is a testament to the solidity of this team.
Aiding the film further is the unique formatting decision Kaplan and Springer chose to use. Springer explained their idea to have each lead presented in a documentary-like environment at intervals throughout the film. This device allowed everyone to understand how each character felt without having to undermine the dialogue of the central story. Rather than spelling out each emotion, Kaplan and Springer chose to give their leads a say. What they have to say is unreliable, at best, but that just enhances the fun of it all.
If you are looking for an excellent story and likeable characters to brighten your day, I encourage you to see ‘Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship’ in theatres June 21-June 26 at IndieScreen New York. It is also available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Playstation, XBOX, YouTube, Nook, CinemaNow and Vudu.
Ben Marques is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.