Despite having the most appropriate title of the fall—indeed the interviews are brief, the men hideous—Brief Interviews with Hideous Men will not be remembered all that fondly. Even at 80 minutes, the film feels too long by twenty, and never actually reaches a conclusive point beyond that all men are created equally awful. Even during its best moments—most of which occur in the early going—Hideous Men is ugly and disjointed. Still, to dismiss it out of hand would be an error in judgment, if only because it allows John Krasinski to take the next step.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is obviously a passion project for The Office star. He wrote and directed this adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s seminal book and it seems clear that as a filmmaker, he learned much from George Clooney on the set of Leatherheads. With its occasional wall breaking and creative editing, certain scenes (especially one with an outstanding Christopher Meloni and the always-reliable Denis O’Hare) play like outtakes from Mr. Clooney’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That Mr. Krasinski takes what is, in essence, a stage play and livens up the proceedings as best he can is to be commended. That being said, it’s his work in front of the camera that is most impressive.
As Ryan—or Subject #20, the ex-boyfriend of the female grad student conducting the titular interviews (Julianne Nicholson, in the one truly bad performance in the film)—Mr. Krasinski goes completely outside his comfort zone. His character has all the trappings of his Office alter ego, resident good guy Jim Halpert—charm, good looks and a sense of humor—and turns them sideways to reveal a cowardly and mean-spirited soul who is much more lost than he seems at first glance. The climatic monologue that Krasinski-as-Ryan delivers towards the end of the film wherein he explains why he broke up with his girlfriend is pathetic, sad and totally engrossing.
Too many times, television stars rely on their well-worn personas whenever they jump into film. Michael Cera is facing that problem right now, continually playing an endless loop of George-Michael’s to his own detriment. And to this point, Mr. Krasinski has followed a similar path. We have always thought he had the tools to become the next George Clooney, but thus far, his movie roles haven’t born that theory out—Away We Go might be his best work to date, but it’s still just Jim with facial hair. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men won’t vault him onto the A-list, but it’s a good start. There is a movie career for John Krasinski to have, if he’s only willing to stretch.