Noël Wells in Mr. Roosevelt (Paladin Pictures)

Mr. Roosevelt is a sweet and slightly tangy comedy about a woman coming of age at 30. Emily Martin, played by writer/director Noël Wells, is having a rough time in Los Angeles. She is trying to make it as an improv and sketch comedian and not having much luck, and she finds out, in the middle of a fairly humiliating sexual encounter (her partner is tweeting a joke as she services him), that her beloved cat, Mr. Roosevelt, has died. Turns out Emily moved to LA from Austin, Texas, two years prior and left Mr. Roosevelt in the care of her then-boyfriend, with whom she broke up with unceremoniously over the phone a few months later.

Wracked with grief, she heads back to Austin only to find that her ex, Eric, has a serious new girlfriend, Celeste, who is as put together as Emily is fallen apart. Eric is clearly smitten with her, and they were both smitten with Mr. Roosevelt. They insist Emily stay with them in the house that she once shared with her Eric. What follows is a series of rude awakenings for Emily: Austin has changed, her favorite ramshackle coffee house is closed, and Celeste is so perfect that she is clearly getting on Emily’s nerves–Celeste plans a funeral for Mr. Roosevelt, complete with Evite. Worst of all, Eric, whom Emily still carries a flame for, has given up his dream of being a musician and is becoming a real estate broker.

All of this throws Emily for a loop, and the film follows her as she tries to ground herself while grieving her deceased feline. Wells, who is reminiscent of a young Sally Field crossed with Zooey Deschanel, gives her character just enough salt to keep her from slipping into the cliché of quirky, neurotic millennial. There’s a bit of humiliation comedy here that can be a bit overbearing, but Wells is a game performer with a ton of charisma. Everyone actually acquits themselves quite nicely, including Daniella Padilla as Jen, a waitress who Emily befriends, and particularly Britt Lower as Celeste. Lower has the toughest job as, in Emily’s eyes, the villain of the piece. She has to give us enough information to make us feel that she is perhaps the cold, calculating, emasculating woman Emily believes she is, but she also allow us some wiggle room, considering that Emily is a bit of an unreliable narrator, given her emotional state.

Nick Thune is the only weak spot as the underwritten Erik. He’s blandly handsome, and he can’t quite keep up with the ladies in terms of personality and craft. Which is fine in the long run, because, aside from the relatively obvious theme of learning to grow up and move on, there’s a secondary and more interesting thread: the importance of female friendship. Emily meets Jen at the worst moment for the former, and Jen takes her in as she is and just lets her be, which allows Emily the space to get out of her head. The ending focuses on the three disparate women of the piece, while Thune’s character is really just a device to get us there.

Of course, this is a comedy, and so it lives or dies by bringing the funny, and for the most part, Wells delivers. She has a keen eye for the disparity of what Emily perceives and what is actually happening, and the funniest bits occur when she projects her self-loathing onto more successful, clearly happier people, Celeste and her friends. Emily’s unloading of an expletive filled takedown of the privilege of Celeste and her befuddled friends is worth the price of admission.

There’s a larger and obvious point here: the gentrification and the de-weirdification of Austin, which is not particularly thought through or convincing. Luckily, this falls away as Wells zeroes in on her characters insecurities and the difficulty Emily finds in accepting maturity and, most importantly, friendship.

Written and Directed by Noël Wells
Released by Paladin Pictures
USA. 90 min. Not rated
With Wells, Nick Thune, Britt Lower, and Daniella Pineda