Still of Keith Poulson in Somebody Up There Likes Me

Bob Byington’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” builds itself around poorly timed jokes and awkward silences, takes place in the midst of strangely heartwarming debauchery, and documents a series of endless mistakes. The protagonist, Max (Keith Poulson), is an insensitive and vaguely misogynistic mess of a human being, as is his best friend Sal (Nick Offerman). Together, however, they make an endearing pair of deadpan buffoons, united through the best and worst of times, if only because they have no one else but each other. As they jump from woman to woman and job to job, their friendship is the only thing that maintains any semblance of constancy or stability.

The film portrays marriage as a meaningless institution of convenience, which the characters fall into and out of as they please. The camera often lingers on the wedding ring on a character’s finger as they talk about how their marriage is falling apart, or as they actively commit adultery— like when Max leaves his wife alone by her father’s coffin, and then proceeds to hit on another woman at the same funeral. These moments are always comedic, but tainted by a hint of tragedy— especially when Max’s neglected son, Lyle (Jonathan Togo) is involved.

The story is framed in the context of death and its effects on life and love. In fact, it both begins and ends with a funeral, a mysterious life-preserving briefcase, and the line, “I think it’s funny how we all sort of think we aren’t going to die.” At least half of the film takes place either in a cemetery or at a funeral, and when the characters aren’t actively faced with death, they are still thinking or talking about it. But the story is anything but morbid. It is prevented from venturing into darkness by its cheery soundtrack, bright lighting, and vibrant colors.

As if coming from Max’s perspective, whenever the film depicts something that would usually be serious and important, it is made light of and cut short. When Lyla’s (Jess Weixler) father confesses that he is dying, Sal makes an off-color joke about them having to leave the restaurant in which they are eating because it is about to close. In a cemetery, Max engages in a footrace with a homeless man to retrieve the breadsticks left at his wife Lyla’s grave. He even steals flowers from a roadside memorial to win back an ex, only to return them and find himself face-to-face with the deceased’s son. Each of these escapades sounds horrible out of context— and even in context it is sometimes horrifying to watch Max’s flippant and selfish behavior— but the film as a whole is heartwarming and reassuring.

In the end, whether or not Max’s briefcase really does contain the secret to life is insignificant. All of the infidelity, wasted time, and failed marriages don’t matter. The film is not about eternal youth or how to live the right way. Instead, it says that no matter how you live your life, the most important thing is that you share it with somebody else.