Few actors do "nerdy loser" more convincingly than Matthew Broderick. He did it in Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me. He did it on Broadway in The Producers; indeed, his wimpy Leo Bloom was peerless. In Finding Amanda, once again he is wholly believable as a benign schmuck -- specifically, a low-rated television writer-producer who finds solace in betting on horses (and ultimately anything else that crosses his sorry path). But that's where plausibility ends in this schematic film that makes little sense and is ill-defined. Is this a comedy or a drama? It's unclear and works as neither.
Taylor Peters (Broderick) is in big trouble. Thanks in part to his compulsive gambling, his career is on the skids. So is his marriage to the beleaguered Lorraine (Maura Tierney), who's put up with his addictions -- including earlier bouts with cocaine and alcohol -- for decades; when she finds racing stubs in his glove compartment, she walks out. Well, it turns out self-destructive behavior runs in his upper-middle-class California clan. Lorraine's 20-year-old niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) is working as a hooker in Las Vegas to support a drug habit. The family is desperate to see her rescued and delivered to a rehabilitation center. In an effort to win back his wife's affections, Taylor volunteers to track down the troubled girl, swearing that while he's in Vegas, he won't risk a penny.
Once there, not surprisingly, Taylor spirals out of control. Within short order, he is gambling, boozing, and drugging. His wayward niece, whom he has located, is equally dead-end, controlled by her johns, pimp, and abusive, parasitic boyfriend, Greg (Peter Facinelli). Uncle and niece make one hell of a team as they debate their lives, choices, and nonchoices. Finding Amanda had the potential to offer a glimpse into the nihilistic lives of the upper crust, but almost throughout, it feels contrived, with snippets -- such as Amanda's violent pimp aspiring to be a television writer -- so jarring as to throw it all off-kilter.
The performances are a mixed bag. Snow is a little too cheerful as the hooked hooker who was sexually abused by a stepfather. Still, when she talks about the pleasure in home ownership, even if she earned the monies through prostitution, she makes her case forcefully. (Of course, it's arguable that a low-level whore would bring in enough to buy a house.) Facinelli is fine as Amanda's taunting, two-timing boyfriend, a study in amorality. Steve Coogan's sleazy casino host, determined to please everyone, is superb. He is the master schmoozer and manipulator whose own desperation, just beneath his slick surface, is palpable. Tierney is also good as the wife at the end of her rope, though she still loves her flawed husband.
In the end, however, it's Broderick's performance that has to carry the film, and it doesn't. Would a more obsessively driven, larger-than-life Taylor salvage this flick? Probably not, but it might have helped.
Written and directed by: Peter Tolan
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Brittany Snow, Maura Tierney, Steve Coogan, Peter Facinelli