Films made without a script are often a risky investment, both for producers and for the viewers who will eventually give them an hour of their finite time on this planet. The risks are even higher when attempting to make this kind of film within the world of dark comedy because the line between humor and poor taste is often razor-sharp, and just because your cast can create funny moments every now and then does not necessarily mean you can produce a feature-length product. Joshy, the latest film from Life After Beth writer/director Josh Baena, is a rare example of a film that finds humor in dark subject matter without losing its heart, and its success is greatly owed to its compelling—not to mention hilarious—cast.
Joshy (Thomas Middleditch) was living a life most aspire to when he returned from the gym one day to find his fiancé had committed suicide using one of his belts. Four months later he decides he still wants to have his bachelor party, and he asks his closest friends to join him for a weekend at a beautiful home in California whose owner apparently does not offer refunds to people who lose their intended spouse. Making the trip to be by his side is Ari (Adam Pally), a married man questioning his position in life in between smoking weed; Adam (filmmaker Alex Ross Perry), a responsible adult who recently became estranged from his wife; and Eric (Nick Kroll), a ‘life of the party’ type who insists on making sure everyone is having fun all the time. The group is also joined a short time later by Eric’s equally broken friend, Greg (Bret Gelman), who urges Joshy to look on the bright side of life because, “It’s not okay to be sad.”
A late night excursion to a bar also adds Jenny Slate to the mix as Jodi, a free-spirited woman who can hold her own—if not entirely command the screen—in every scene where she appears.
The characters have almost nothing in common with each other outside of their connection to Joshy, and they argue throughout the film over how to best spend the weekend. Baena reportedly supplied a 20-page guide to the story that highlighted the beats he wanted to see and when he wanted to see them, but otherwise the cast was left to create relatable characters in a familiar world that carries the dramatic turns and comedic highs through their collective imagination. The resulting product benefits from a sense of realness to each moment where it feels as if the cast knows as little about what will come next as you do. That atmosphere is only made possible by the absence of a proper script, and it is ultimately what keeps you engaged with the narrative.
Joshy is not so much a comedy as it is a drama with comedic elements, but it is the story’s darkest turns that often provide paths to the best moments of levity. Whether discussing the sudden death of Joshy’s fiancé or questioning the things that keep each of the main characters from achieving the level of happiness they are seeking, Joshy never allows the heaviness of the subject matter to bring down the mood. Baena understands that his characters are supposed to exist in the real world, and in the real world life is never just one emotion. We are never completely sad or completely happy; at our best we are largely positive creatures who do their best to keep thoughts regarding our place in the universe and the violence of the world at bay, and fighting to stay positive is an uphill battle we must choose to fight every single day. The characters in Joshy have largely lost their will to fight when the story begins, but through sharing and camaraderie they discover a piece of themselves they may have otherwise forgotten.