Max is a twentysomething writer—one of those seriously self-serious writers who's a wri-ter in that way that only self-serious twentysomethings can be—experiencing a difficult revelation: He is really, really shitty at writing. At the premiere of his play The Onion Dance, in which a farmer opines about peeling back the layers of life and then symbolic onions thunk heavily from the sky, Max's grandfather keels over with a groan—the implication being that Max has stabbed him in the heart with his shitty writing. Sorry, grandpa.
At this point, Max faces the bleak realization that his life's dream is built on nothing, that his identity as Max Solomon, Meaningful Writer, is not his identity (how he's never had to confront this before, I'm not sure—The Onion Dance is absurdly bad, like, parody-of-a-bad-play-in-a-comedy-about-bad-plays bad, actually a little too bad). He retreats to his favorite burrito joint for commiseration with/abuse from his best friends, Tommy (batpoop crazy) and Dave (the nice one).
"You know how most people, they aren't very good? At things?" mumbles Max. "But they sort of lie to themselves and they say that they... are? Well, I guess I'm not a very good liar." "Your play was very bad," Tommy agrees. "That just doesn't give you permission to act like a faggot, though, all right?" "You look like a blue penis in your hat," Dave tells Tommy. Then Max robs a bank.
Directed by Monty Miranda, the SXSW hit Skills Like This is a scrappy, pleasantly sitcommy little three-day odyssey. Max embraces his new persona, The Suicide Bandit (he points the gun at himself, because it doesn't seem right to threaten others), with a deadpan, detached glee: Robbing that bank, this mostly victimless crime, is the only thing he's ever been good at, and he feels great. The premise borders on absurd, but it's exactly like if your funniest friends finally got off their asses and made that movie they've always talked about.
And it's great. Scenes of late-night best-friend wastedness, especially, feel candid and relatable, if silly (Dave can't remember what happened to Tommy last night: "The last thing I remember was him punching himself in the face and yelling the word 'badger'"). And Max's budding romance with the bank teller he robbed—despite the fact that WHAT ARE YOU DOING, LADY? THAT IS AN OBVIOUS MADMAN—comes off as sweet but not precious.
The motivations are a bit thin—I'm not convinced that a character so affable and articulate (the film hangs on Max's complete likability) could possibly write something as ham-fistedly pretentious as The Onion Dance, and I'm also not convinced that Max isn't an ACTUAL CRAZY PERSON—but disbelief can be suspended seeing as Skills Like This is a goofy comedy. Plus, it's just good writing.
Skills Like This plays April 3–9 at SIFF Cinema.