Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters is a strange story to pick for a modern day revival. Although the book seems to have a few fans, it is a hard one to get your hands on, save for a few used copies hanging around the Internet’s most literary corners.
This isn’t particularly surprising: the tale of Sid Straw, an exceptionally socially awkward salesman, obsessively writing letters to former acquaintance and Hollywood star Heather Locklear, does not sound like something that would top the New York Times bestseller list in 2021. Such a premise may have worked at the beginning of the century, but times have changed – and a release in the present day would most likely lead modern readers to be put off by the stalkery feel of the situation, rather than laugh at its absurdity.
This didn’t deter screenwriter Scott Abramovitch (The Calling) to choose Kun’s novel as the unlikely source material to his directorial debut. In this new somewhat contemporary version, oddly renamed Eat Wheaties!, Locklear has been swapped with Elizabeth Banks, and letters are left aside in the favour of posts on the star’s public Facebook profile. Despite these few basic differences the pitch stays more or less the same, as we watch Straw (Tony Hale) progressively ruin his own life with every new social media post. It doesn’t take long for us to be dragged along an uncomfortable journey as he unsuccessfully tries to convince the rest of the world that Banks used to be a former classmate of his.
Abramovitch’s attempt at bringing the story to contemporary America is noteworthy, but Eat Wheaties! fails to show that the story needed to be told in the first place. Straw is a strange protagonist from the get-go, seemingly unaware of all basic social etiquette, whether in person or online. It soon becomes painfully obvious that we are in the company of a man who has never thought to update his vision of the world after the end of his college years, and didn’t do much maturing since either. Most people who tolerate him simultaneously despise him and it doesn’t take long before any initial pity turns into annoyance, as he blissfully disregards every single boundary that his family and acquaintances attempt to set with him.
Hale is a worthy headliner, but his take on the role is nothing new; if someone wanted to watch Tony Hale being Tony Hale, they could easily rewatch Veep or Arrested Development and get a much more pleasurable experience. Cringe comedy is incredibly hard to master, and although the film has its fair share of embarrassment, the corresponding humour is seldom found. We’re not exactly laughing with Straw, and it’s also hard to find the moments when we’re laughing at him; and that’s mostly because,, we’re not laughing much at all.
The film’s insistence at painting Straw as a good guy who simply doesn’t know how to show it might be its biggest flaw. The structure and tone of the story is conventional enough to know that we won’t be shown the kind hero condemned in any way by the narrative, but none of the redemption portion of the story feels earned. It doesn’t seem unfair to say that for many who have had the displeasure of encountering someone who doesn’t understand or care much for boundaries, most of the film’s supposedly comedic moments will instead ring some serious alarm bells.
The plot’s substance is made harder to criticize by the fact that the film was made with undeniable talent and technical skill. The story flows well in the film’s short runtime, leaving no amount of space for any hypothetical boredom. Additionally, an impressive amount of talented people can be seen in the film’s supporting roles, familiar faces ranging from Alan Tudyk to Sarah Chalke and Danielle Brooks (always a delightful addition, although her role in the story is more than a little bit questionable). There’s no denying that Abramovitch knows what he’s doing as a director – but it doesn’t take long until the material itself turns sour.
Like its protagonist, Eat Wheaties! may believe that it has good intentions, but the end result is more dangerous than endearing. It’s hard to fully condemn it (although the overinsistence on telling us to like the “nice guy” protagonist may raise a few eyebrows), but it certainly feels out of place in today’s film scene, perhaps more appropriate for last decade’s summer comedy scene than the society we live in in 2021. The effort from the cast and attempts to adapt an outdated story to the modern world are commendable, but the experience unfortunately remains one that brings more irritation than laughter.
Callie (she/her) is a Belgian New Media student currently living in Dublin. She enjoys female-fronted horror, nostalgic adaptations of childhood classics and every outfit Blake Lively wears in A Simple Favor. She’s usually pretty honest, but if you catch her saying that her favourite film is anything other than Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, you should know that she’s lying. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd.