Considering how aimless its screenplay, how lost its hero and how unglamorous its setting, Bob Byington’s “7 Chinese Brothers” is remarkably appealing.
The title might suggest a kung fu caper — rather than the R.E.M. song we hear over the end credits — but this droll, dry comedy has some moves of its own.
Most of them are accomplished by Jason Schwartzman, snufflingly assisted by his real-life pet, a French bulldog named Arrow. Together, their characters share a small apartment in Austin, Texas, consoling each other when one is fired from yet another job and the other has insufficient nap time.
As though written with Schwartzman’s low-energy gifts in mind, the role of Larry — a boozy, lonely, congenial slacker — is familiar but not stale, and his company isn’t a drag. Moving resignedly from a chain restaurant to a Quick Lube, he works without enthusiasm or obvious ambition, despite the proddings of his spiky grandmother (Olympia Dukakis). Marking time in a nursing home, Grandma knows that the window for change is always slowly closing.
Drifting and sweet, “7 Chinese Brothers” (like Byington’s gentle 2009 love story, “Harmony and Me”) leaves a melancholy but hopeful aftertaste. His story may appear weightless, but it has a lot to say about the indignities of service-economy jobs that offer a uniform and a training manual in lieu of an identity.
The film’s jokes are small and quick, but its repurposed resentments cut deeper as workers violate one another’s property and use their uniforms to thieve and deceive. When the name stitched on your chest isn’t even your own, self-reinvention seems a fair compensation.
(At Alamo Drafthouse.)
‘7 CHINESE BROTHERS’
Not rated | Time: 1:16