The barrier between real and imaginary is permeable for sad sack Ben Layton (Thomas Middleditch), who slips between them without perceiving a difference. That’s a tricky state to capture, and director Jason James does so by creating a visual cocoon around Ben – no shadows, clutter, or crowds. Everything in his world seems normal, but too much so, like the well-lit showroom of an elegant home goods store.
James also aims for black comedy, but instead of submitting this fragile character to excoriating humor, he swaddles Ben tightly, taking a whimsical approach to his mental instability. Ben’s condition isn’t defined; his numb befuddlement is punctuated by flights of hallucinatory fancy. Middleditch expresses the fear that underlies Ben’s behavior, especially the need to create a narrative for his life that doesn’t lead to attempted suicide.
Screenwriter Jason Filiatrault provides that alternate path with the introduction of Hanna Weathers, the irresistible girl who magically arrives to be everything the flailing boy didn’t know he needed. Jess Weixler tackles this thankless role with verve and wit, making Hanna alternately cajoling and comforting. Hanna is meant to help the stunted Ben finally grow up, but Entanglement only highlights how much errant white men are coddled. (He even sees a child psychologist.)
Ben’s carefully plotted healing diminishes the complexity of mental illness, and gives James’s sweet vision a bitter aftertaste. Filiatrault uses too-neat bookending in the place of dramatic resolution, so that the story of a man hanging on by a thread is nicely tied up in a bow.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on February 9, 2018 by Dark Star Pictures
First published in The Village Voice, 2018.