Don’t let ‘The Baxter’ buy you dinner

Michael Showalter attempts lovable but achieves annoying

Jenna Ross

The film “The Baxter” dedicates itself to the guy who films normally shaft.

He’s in every romantic comedy. But he’s not the hero. He begins the film inexplicably engaged to the female lead. Luckily, and always, she leaves him. And we pull for her to do so.

He’s a roadblock to Lover’s Lane. A speed bump.

By focusing on the loser left behind, “The Baxter” then must show us his appeal. It must show us the man behind the hay fever, the mind beneath the toupee.

Here the film fails. As Elliot Sherman, Michael Showalter is indeed a loser. But he’s not our loser.

Awkward but never adorable, boring but never reliable, old-fashioned but never a gentleman, Elliot stumbles through the film with pursed lips and a frown.

Elliot works as a certified public accountant and thinks his office’s “Backwards Jeans Day” is just a hoot. He drives a station wagon with wood paneling and wears brown wool suits.

He’s inexplicably engaged to Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), a striking and successful magazine editor. But suddenly Caroline’s high school boyfriend Bradley (Justin Theroux), the love of her life, shows up.

He wins over Caroline – and the audience – with one wink and a giggle. Suddenly, disastrously, we’re rooting for Bradley.

Sure, Bradley is self-absorbed and inauthentic. But he’s also charming, smart and can beat Elliot in a break-dancing contest.

The point of the movie is not for Elliot to overcome Bradley for Caroline’s heart. Elliot knows, and we know, that they’re not right together.

Instead, Elliot is supposed to win the heart of his “adorable temp” (Michelle Williams). When they meet, Elliot discovers that like him, she is reading the dictionary. She just can’t put it down. Thus, they’re meant to be. But soon we hope the adorable temp realizes she too shouldn’t settle for Elliot.

It might seem unfair to put all the blame on just how unlikable Showalter is as Elliot. But he deserves it. He miscast himself.

“The Baxter” is Showalter’s baby. He wrote the script, which is reserved and occasionally funny, and directed the film, which is self-assured.

Showalter co-wrote “Wet Hot American Summer,” a 2001 romp in which he plays the loser whom the girl leaves for the summer camp stud. He also stars in Comedy Central’s “Stella,” a sketch comedy trio.

Showalter is funny in these roles. He enjoys being the quirky, awkward secondary character. But with “The Baxter,” he just can’t translate those charms into the lead.

The film made me wish for past could-be-protagonists stomped on by romantic comedies. If only Bill Pullman would reprise his role as Walter in “Sleepless in Seattle.” Now, there’s a likable fella. He too had hay fever, but at least he had heart.