REVIEW: With all due respect to its production department, there’s only one moment in the opening two episodes of Mr. Corman (now streaming on Apple TV+) that betrays it’s otherwise seemingly seamless mid-shoot relocation to New Zealand.
As the beleaguered fifth-grade teacher Josh Corman (the show’s writer and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wrestles with how much he should pay for a breathing workshop, a sign advertising that most Kiwi of institutions, Pippins (Girl Guides’ most junior ranks), is affixed to the glass door behind him.
That aside, you’d struggle to believe you weren’t in the real Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, as the increasingly ennuied Corman struggles with modern life.
A former musician who hasn’t played a note since “the love of his life” Megan (Juno Temple) left him a year ago, he’s beginning to question his choices and existence. “It feels like life shouldn’t be this hard,” he whines to his flatmate, while trying to shake up their dull traditional Friday night routine.
* Joseph Gordon-Levitt moves new TV production to New Zealand to escape Covid-19 pandemic in the US
* The Trial of the Chicago 7: Netflix's perfectly timed, stunning courtroom drama
* 7500: Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines in Amazon's terrific, tense terrorist thriller
* 7500: Joseph Gordon-Levitt discusses 'the hardest acting job of my life'
“If we were 15, what would we do?” he asks. “Go to a bar to talk to girls,” comes the instant reply.
“But most people don’t have anything interesting to say,” he retorts.
In the end though, Corman somewhat reluctantly agrees to go out for one drink, and even finds himself enjoying the company of one woman. However, the night ends in disaster, with her seemingly spiteful words that “the only people who become teachers are people who wanted to do something else and gave up” ringing in his ears.
By the following Monday, things have escalated from restlessness to a full-on panic attack. Convinced that his chest pains are something more sinister, Corman seeks out medical assistance, but it’s clear that, unless he’s prepared to pay through the nose, urgent care is not possible. That’s when he decides to take more affordable action to try and solve his seemingly crippling anxiety.
While its overall tone of introspective, mumblecore dramedy certainly won’t be for everyone, Mr. Corman offers flashes of inspiration and relatable recognition. There are scenes (particularly of frustration) that will strike a chord with many, from struggling to make a connection to battling call centre operatives.
Gordon-Levitt’s tale drip feeds information about Corman’s more longstanding troubles: A mention of his real estate mother here, the suggestion that his father might have opened a credit card in his name there, as well as photos of his former muse Megan.
It’s designed to draw the viewer in for the long-haul, but whether it works for you depends on your tolerance/love for the Looper, Inception and Third Rock From the Sun star and his somewhat emotionally stunted protagonist.
In a way, this reminded me of Laura Linney’s excellent The Big C, but populated by less colourful and engaging characters.
The remaining eight instalments promise more Temple and Debra Winger as Corman’s mom, so maybe that could yet be righted, and you could always just see what other tell-tale Kiwi signs you can spot as the story unfolds.
Mr. Corman is now streaming on Apple TV+.