Tony Hale anchors the cast of Eat Wheaties!, an offbeat new comedy from Scott Abramovitch. Based on Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters, Hale plays an overeager marketing manager who attempts to prove he knew the actress Elizabeth Banks in college.
While this premise drives the plot, it’s the singular bits and oddball cast of characters who bring this funny farce to life. The cast is stacked with familiar faces from your favorite television comedies: character actors from Schitt’s Creek, New Girl, Mom, Barry, Orange is the New Black and Scrubs are just a few who populate the earnest world of Sid Straw, a nice if overly enthusiastic guy who simply tries too hard to fit in.
Hale’s endearingly strange lead character gives embarrassing unprompted speeches at family events and writes accidentally-public letters to Banks on Facebook for the world to see. His cringe-inducing jokes and attempts to bond with co-workers and first dates are hilariously awkward, but when he tries to get in touch with Banks ahead of their college reunion, a few misunderstandings spiral into a viral narrative he can’t work his way out of.
The silliness of the story is surprisingly grounded in human emotion, which makes us root for Sid despite his quirks. The supporting cast is especially funny in their reactions to him – often annoyed, mostly baffled, actors like Lamorne Morris, Paul Walter Hauser, Sarah Goldberg and David Walton are great at playing it straight to Sid’s eccentricities. Though his humor is that signature subtlety Hale brought to Veep and Arrested Development, this character is entirely new – and the stigma surrounding him somehow manages to be equally funny and heartbreaking.
Eat Wheaties! often feels like a string of recurring character sketches strung together – and that’s a good thing. Sid feels like someone we’ve known for a very long time, stuck in several situations that put him out of his element. One bit where his name is misspelled to “Sad Striw” (“who would name their kid ‘Sad?’) just shows how there is still humor to be found in characters who feel stuck or unseen. In a time when it feels like well-intentioned humor is hard to come by, especially on social media where this story begins, Abramovitch doesn’t overanalyze his protagonist – he makes us laugh instead.
Peppered with funny references (“Jesse James robbed Sandra Bullock of five years of her life”), Eat Wheaties! is a sweet and lighthearted film as offbeat and sincere as its main character. With the resurgence of well-meaning doofs in modern comedy thanks to the success of Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso (though maybe it dates back as far as The Office), a character like Sid Straw is worth rooting for. And he just might cause us to look a little closer at the people in our own lives who might have more to offer than it seems on the surface – that’s a worthy 90 minutes.