Martin Carr reviews the Apple original series, Mr. Corman…
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has gone all in with Apple, offering up a character piece jam packed with contemporary angst. Unfortunately, as Mr. Corman this genuinely engaging actor may well divide popular opinion. Resentful of his job as a fifth grade school teacher, mooning after an ex-girlfriend and suffering sporadic panic attacks seems to be his lot in life. Overly analytical, callously dismissive of those around him and keen to indulge darker urges; Mr Corman will become the marmite of Apple’s original catalogue.
Tolerated, coached and chided by his roommate Victor, played with easy charm by Arturo Castro, this limited series is reminiscent of Magnolia. Stylistic deviations mix fantastical elements with the mundane, as Mr. Corman experiences flashes of inspiration. Between times he berates his mother and sister, lectures minors on the absence of God and intentionally keeps love at a distance.
With the occasional abstract departure into full blown musical territory, Mr. Corman also brings back memories of the superior Kidding. A series which only lasted two Emmy-winning seasons, before Showtime brought the hammer down. Where Kidding was packed with invention, pitch black humour and a powerhouse performance from Jim Carrey, Mr. Corman feels pedestrian by comparison. This is all navel gazing, interspersed with moments of spiteful snipping that never allow audiences a way in. Debra Winger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt may have a tangible connection, but other areas lack substance.
Bongs, beer and computer games might sit well in another dramedy but here they feel out of place. Incidental music intrudes rather than supports and any sense of humour is sorely lacking. Having written, directed and executive produced Mr. Corman, it is clear that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was passionate about the story. Unfortunately, high production values and a committed central performance can only go so far in hiding a lack of depth.
Produced by A24 in conjunction with Apple, much of the fault with Mr. Corman comes from its meandering storyline. Each of the ten episodes varies in length from thirty minutes, down to a concise twenty and change. To be honest, this feels like a film pitch robbed of breathing room. Those cinematic flights of fantasy which visually engage feel truncated, while our central protagonist lacks conflict.
If the creative intention of this respected character actor was to water down a richer idea to suit the marketplace, then he has succeeded. In every respect this feels a million miles away from Don Jon, which Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed in 2013. Mr. Corman may have moments of genuine inspiration, but they remain too few and far between for this Apple original to be anything other than hard work.
For an indication of the arid emotional landscape on offer, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg would be a perfect companion piece. However, even that is more uplifting than this, which is saying something.
The first two episodes of Mr. Corman stream exclusively on Apple TV+ August 6th