Curb Your Enthusiasm makes us laugh only when it doesn’t enforce discomfort. But the intricately titled indie dramedy, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, which is written, directed by, and stars Curb supporting player Jeff Garlin, makes us laugh during transitional periods between its pervasive solemnity. On the HBO series, Garlin plays Jeff Greene, the contentedly pudgy agent for bumbling comedian Larry David, constantly providing zany, impromptu one-liners to help David through various mystifying jams. Everything upsetting in Greene’s life is funny: an incessantly vulgar, nagging wife (Susie Essman), his fallacious clientele, his obesity. Things aren’t too different for Garlin’s Cheese character, James, save for bachelorhood and that his sole client is himself. In this context, however, the personal qualities create dramatic exposition in a gently bittersweet fable.
Thirty-nine-year-old James lives a vaguely interesting life in Chicago, sharing an apartment with his mother and half-heartedly performing in Second City while vainly seeking more dramatic roles. He binges on pudding late at night to assuage depression, lacking both the self-esteem and physique to maintain an active sex life (in his opinion). Garlin writes the character as a funnyman in spite of his best efforts (he desperately wants to get cast in the Ernest Borgnine part for a developing remake of Marty). Occasionally hilarious, James can work a room, but not for his own satisfaction. A late scene shows him at the center of a mildly amusing Second City routine as the audience roars in approval, but you just feel bad for the guy.
Cheese carries the remarkably unpretentious air of a small movie, simply shot with an utterly straightforward story — and yet it’s hardly a stab at character reinvention in the vein of Adam Sandler’s performance in Punch-Drunk Love. Garlin’s screen presence feels less like acting than merely existing. He drifts through scenes with a furrowed brow and shoulders that tend to shrug. It’s a peek behind the curtain at the fat, witty type that pervades entertainment, and it forces reevaluation of Garlin’s second fiddle role on Curb.
He’s not the only person in Cheese bucking a one-dimensional persona. Raunchy jokester Sarah Silverman shows up midway as ice-cream attendant Beth, sporting the comedienne’s trademark toothy grin and the naughty energy that popularized her standup shtick. Playing the ice-cream shop employee, Silverman taps into her seductive appeal: Beth practically throws herself into James’ welcoming lap, seemingly attracted to his droll solitude. She provides the titular declaration, a whimsical craving that means nothing beyond momentary bliss.
Unfortunately, their affair has similar transience. Vaguely suspecting that possibility (“You are a huge-time hottie, and I am Baron von Fat,” he declares), James recognizes that his aspirations are hindered by slim motivation to mend his woes. Later, he laments “the magic of self-loathing.” To refine that point, Cheese concludes with a sudden cut to black, the punch line being that there isn’t a punch line — that sometimes, life is just sad.