Reviewed by Luke Channell
“I can’t stay here anymore” declares a mournful Bill (J. K. Simmons) to his teenage son Wes (Josh Wiggins) at the very beginning of Kurt Voelker’s indie dramedy The Bachelors. Attempting to move on from the sudden death of Bill’s wife, the pair relocate from their family home in San Francisco to a small rental property in Los Angeles. Despite this cookie-cutter premise – plus a host of other indie tropes – the film has its heart in the right place and it’s buoyed by a quartet of affecting performances.
Thanks to an old college friend, Bill lands a job teaching mathematics at a prep school in Los Angeles which Wes also begins to attend. Wes befriends two guys when he reluctantly joins the school’s cross-country running team, but Bill finds it harder to adjust and begins seeing a psychiatrist who prescribes him a course of anti-depressants which only seem to make him become more detached. As well as overcoming their grief, the duo faces new difficulties when Bill becomes close with French teacher Carine (Julie Delpy) and Wes connects with homework partner Lacey (Odeya Rush). While Bill struggles to move on and overcome comparing potential partners to his ex-wife, Wes gradually discovers that Lacey is dealing with a large amount of emotional pain herself.
This well-tread narrative set-up plays out pretty unsurprisingly and the film’s second half is particularly disappointing in its adherence to archetype. For a film that deals with weighty themes such as depression, grief and loss, The Bachelors’ ending is too neatly tied up and the complexity of mental health is somewhat devalued by its simplified conclusion. While the dialogue is also pretty uninspired, The Bachelors still manages to achieve some emotionally resonant moments and sensitive discussions on coping with bereavement.
This is mostly generated by the superb performances from a talented cast who breathe life into a cliché-ridden narrative. Simmons is on reliably good form and in stark contrast to his aggressive, powerhouse, Oscar-winning turn in Whiplash; here he imbues Bill with palpable vulnerability and heart-breaking anguish. Delpy is a delight as always and injects some much-needed comedy into proceedings as she tries to break down Bill’s emotional barriers. Wiggins and Rush both put in committed performances and their blossoming romance, which could quite easily dip into mawkishness, feels genuine thanks to their easy on-screen chemistry.
Though well-intentioned, The Bachelors suffers from a trite script but just about gets by on the back of its terrific, emotionally authentic performances.
Director: Kurt Voelker
Screenplay: Kurt Voelker
Stars: J. K. Simmons, Julie Delpy, Josh Wiggins, Odeya Rush