Tunde Adebimpe is having a very busy SXSW. Not only did his band, TV on the Radio, do an Austin City Limits taping and a couple of live shows in Austin (we caught their all-too-short set at NPR Music’s party at Stubb’s last night), but he also stars as Jason Schwatzman’s wingman in 7 Chinese Brothers, which had its SXSW premiere Sunday. As you might expect from a film that takes its title from an REM song, the soundtrack includes a host of indie bands like Guided By Voices and Vampire Weekend (the latter band’s bassist, Chris Baio, did the score).
The film, shot in Austin, is also stocked with actors who fans of such bands might be into — like Girls star Alex Karpovsky, who recalled his East Village days on Marc Maron’s podcast this week. Karpovsky plays the owner of the Quick-Lube that hires Schwartzman’s character Larry, a listless day drinker with a bad case of ADD, after he gets caught stealing booze from his restaurant job. (During the post-screening Q&A, director Bob Byington confessed, “I worked at an Italian restaurant and got fired in very similar circumstances when I was a younger person.”) Larry keeps up the petty theft at his new gig, this time compulsively stealing small change from customers’ cars — but his flirtatious rapport with his boss keeps him employed there.
The boss, played by Eleanore Pienta, was also based on Byington’s personal experience: “I was at a Jiffy Lube on Melrose and Labrea in Los Angeles,” he told the audience at the Paramount, “and I was getting my car worked on and there was a very pretty woman who was in charge of the place and for some reason she sort of stuck into my consciousness.”
You could say Schwartzmann plays a version of the titular character he plays in Listen Up Philip. Which makes it all the more hilarious when the director of that movie, Alex Ross Perry, cameos as a motorist who gets into a laughably limp-wristed confrontation with Larry. Larry is every bit as self-involved as Philip, but he’s much less career driven (his primary ambition in life is to learn Spanish, something you sense he’ll never get around to). And he’s a bit more likable. He at least seems to love his dog (played by Schwartzmann’s real-life pit bull, Arrow, just like Philip’s pet was played by Alex Ross Perry’s cat) and he pays regular visits to his feisty grandmother (Olympia Dukakis).
Then again, it quickly becomes apparent that Larry has ulterior motives for hanging at the assisted living center — he’s in the habit of scoring pills from her orderly, Major Norwood.
“Any leftovers?” Larry asks after one patient dies.
Major Norwood (played by Tunde) is a low-key dude who serves as Larry’s wingman but also his conscience. When they both take girls home from a night of clubbing, Larry gets begrudgingly stuck with the less attractive one and ditches her as she makes a move. Norwood asks him the next day, “It wouldn’t have hurt to make her feel desired, would it have?” He also tries to curb Larry’s compulsive lying. After Larry encourages Norwood to pose as a doctor and the girl he picks up eventually figures out she’s been had, Norwood asks Larry, “Are you ready to retreat from the belief that a doctor getup doesn’t work?”
At one point Larry tells his boss, who he has a crush on, that Norwood is a “real lady killer” as well as a war vet with a fake leg. That fails to dissuade her, and Norwood ends up with her. Norwood goes on to eat Larry’s lunch again, this time in a much more substantial way. But we’ll hold off from spoiling it.
Tunde is a natural on the big screen, and the upside of his recent move to Los Angeles is that we’ll presumably get to see more of him there. But last night’s show at Stubb’s was a reminder that he’s best behind a microphone, belting out “Wolf Like Me.” If you missed them, TV on the Radio play Kings Theatre on May 20 and then open for the Pixies on May 23 in Asbury Park.