Comedian, actor, podcaster, and now filmmaker Jason Nash was using a podcast to vent his anxieties and resentments long before that was fashionable. On his podcast Guys With Feelings, which debuted in January 2006, Nash luxuriated in the kinds of ugly emotions most people keep hidden. Just about everything was fair game: Nash was refreshingly open and honest about his sensations of inadequacy, and nakedly envious of everyone higher than him on the pop-culture food chain, including his own wife, who was the primary breadwinner while Nash took care of the children.
But what made Guys With Feelings, which now appears to be defunct, so unique and important was Nash’s deep ambivalence about marriage and fatherhood. Parenthood is so sacrosanct in our culture that even conceding that there are drawbacks to being a family man feels bold and subversive. Nash segued from Guys With Feelings to a number of popular web series, including Jason Nash Is Married, which ran on Comedy Central’s website and has now been adapted into a feature film roughly based on Nash’s own life and career as a man trying to reconcile his obligations to his family with his professional ambitions.
The result, not surprisingly, feels like what it is: a collection of webisodes strung together through a framing device that has a solitary Nash, who has split up with his wife and moved into a depressing bachelor complex, talking into a microphone while waxing philosophical about life at the crossroads. These segments of Nash, playing a fictionalized version of himself, have a very different tone than the rest of the film. They’re indie-film artsy and poetic, where the rest of the film is goofy and ramshackle. The tone wavers throughout, but the interplay between philosophical, brooding, and sketch-comedy broad proves more palatable and successful than it has any right to be.
The film’s plot involves Nash trying to prove himself to his much-more-successful wife Busy (Freaks And Geeks’ Busy Philipps, who is not married to Nash in real life) and raise money to pay off a tax bill. He tries to sell either a project involving fading comedy icon Randy Plymouth (Matt Walsh) or an animated show called Adventure Baby that owes its entire misbegotten existence to an easily distracted character played by T.J. Miller mishearing Nash saying “David Fincher maybe.”
Miller plays his would-be show-business scenester as a man so comfortable with his own dishonesty and complete lack of ethics—he’s the sort of man who shows up at the home of a precariously sober veteran like Randy Plymouth with a giant bag of cocaine—that he almost becomes likable.
Like so many of the other turns by familiar faces—the film’s supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of alternative comedy, including Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, H. Jon Benjamin, Andy Richter, Paul Scheer, Casey Wilson, Rob Corddry, and many more—Miller’s performance feels like a largely improvised favor for a friend. But it’s also consistently hilarious, and filled with killer details like Miller dramatically getting off the phone after telling Nash his show was picked up, and telling a flunky, “I love hanging up after I tell someone something. It gives it more gravitas.”
Jason Nash Is Married’s plot, which involves Nash stumbling his way up the ladder through a series of misunderstandings and bad decisions, recalls Henry Phillips’ vehicle Punching The Clown, which also found a comedy veteran playing a fictionalized version of himself in a satire of the status-obsessed myopia of show business. These films are less like great leap forward than natural, organic outgrowths of their stars’ stand-up and personas. Some comedians have T-shirts and merch; Nash and Phillips have ventures that capture their aesthetic in film form.
Nash has shown fascinating candor about the challenges and complexities of a marriage featuring a great imbalance in power, but the film’s conception of Nash’s wife is disappointingly flat. Philipps is an appealing performer, but Married too often has her play the dour killjoy, more interested in tiles, decoration, and propriety than in her husband’s happiness. The film is ragged, but it’s funnier than most comedies with vastly bigger budgets and more resources. Jason Nash’s homemade scruffiness is a big part of its charm. It’s a little DIY sleeper that’s consistently funny, but also strangely touching, albeit rarely at the same time.