“Mr. Roosevelt” is a well-intentioned but inarticulately told story about millennial fiefdom, the pains of 21st century romance, and the best places to sunbathe topless in Austin. It’s an admirable effort by first-time director Noel Wells, best known for her role in “Master of None.” The movie does posit some interesting questions that relate well to anyone out of college, like who are you actually trying to impress with a bold career move, or what is the point of making someone laugh if you don’t actually like that person? The answers to these questions, or at least the ones that “Mr. Roosevelt” provides, aren’t meaningful, but Wells’ performance as Emily still makes the movie a worthwhile jaunt.
Wells plays Emily, a comedy person in Los Angeles who isn’t exactly sure what type of comedy she wants to do, let alone if she wants to do comedy at all. But Emily left her boyfriend and a pretty significant life in Austin behind to make this dream work. So, when Emily gets a phone call that Mr. Roosevelt, the cat she shared with her ex-boyfriend, is sick, she’s prompted to fly down to Austin to pay her respects, and also because she really has nothing better to do.
Here is where the film really starts, where Emily encounters here ex-boyfriend played by Nick Thune, who seems to have upgraded in nearly every aspect of his life. He has an improved house and a more mature girlfriend, played by Britt Lower, who probably has a six-figure salary to go with her extra six inches in height. Their character names are unimportant since their roles are poorly developed. Thune is just perennial “good guy,” while Lower is just waiting for her time to finally go to a Mommy and Me class.
It’s when Emily explores Austin, though, that the film finds a stronger footing. Much of her favorite locales have closed down due to gentrification, and some of her former friends are hanging about too. Emily is then perceived not as a comedian who escaped and made it, but a goofier figure who people are laughing at, not with. She’s has one foot stuck in the Santa Monica pier and the other trapped on the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin, a selfish, vagabond spirit with an undeniable sense of self.
“Mr. Roosevelt” doesn’t tread over any new questions about “being young and an aspiring comedian” any more than comedy-focused movies like “Don’t Think Twice” and “Obvious Child.” But Noel Wells puts her best food forward as Emily, breathing enough interesting life into this mild movie.