OK, so strictly this is not film: it’s an eight-part adaptation of a book on the Disney+ channel. But these days the crossover is such that it no longer feels wrong to regard something that debuts on the small screen as a movie. Granted, though, at around 400 minutes of running time (episodes range from 43 to 67 minutes in length), in cinemas this would have to come with at least one intermission.
It’s called Fleishman is in Trouble, taking its title from the book of that name by Taffy Brodesser-Akner which was published in 2019. (Pre-Covid, if you can remember back then; its cover is shown on the home page.) Set in New York, its two chief protagonists are Toby Fleishman (played by Jesse Eisenberg, who played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network) and his ex-wife, Rachel (Claire Danes, who will forever be famous for being Carrie Mathison in Homeland). The other main character is Libby, a long-time friend of Toby’s who is played by Lizzy Caplan (who I note will play Alex, the former Glenn Close role, in the remake of Fatal Attraction which will be shown on Paramount+ in May.)
The first episode shows Toby trying to juggle his status as a newly divorced father of two young kids with his demanding work commitments as a liver-specialist…oh, all this while embarking on a frenzy of dating app hook-ups with a bunch of women who help him get over the fact that not only is he divorced but that Rachel seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. “He had been so lost,” goes the script, in a voice-over provided by Caplan throughout the story in her other role as the narrator, “[but] each night he became just a little more found.” Which I guess is either profound or inane, depending on your viewpoint.
Mostly depicted in flashback, we get regular reminders as to why their marriage fell apart. Rachel has built up a business as a theatrical agent. As he sees it, she’s putting her career ahead of their children. “Money doesn’t buy you happiness,” he says. “Oh, Toby, of course it does,” comes the reply. At another point, she says of their daughter, Hannah: “It’s a kindergarten interview. It’s serious. This is where her future gets determined.” So there we have it – Rachel is a bitterly twisted bitch and Toby is well out of that. Note only that, she has been having a relationship with the husband of her best friend. Toby goes round to their old home and finds a bottle of Ambien prescribed to this guy. As the author puts it in the book, “[Toby] was remembering Tiger Woods, how he’d eat like twelve Ambien and go on a twilight sleep-sex binge”. Yes, he’s surely well out of that.
But then we get to the final two episodes, where a chance encounter leads to a long conversation between Rachel and Libby and we begin to understand that our perception may not have been the whole story. It’s not too much of a spoiler to suggest that while everything about the film so far had hitherto left us feeling that Toby was the Fleishman in trouble, we then remember he is not the only character here with that name. As to how it all pans out in the end…well, that would be a spoiler.
Just before the end, there is a flashback sequence overlaid with Libby repeatedly saying: “Right now you are as young as you will ever be again.” Which is a) true, b) a life-is-for-living reminder, and c) in an obvious kind of way, kind of depressing…😥