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'Baxter': The Wedding Crashee

September 15, 2005 By:
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It's hearts and flowers - and "The Baxter" (Michael Showalter), opening Friday, Sept.16.
A "Baxter" has back-up lights on his heart, with an "I Break for Breakups" sticker slapped on his bumper.

Wedding crasher? He's the wedding crashee - a nice guy who finishes not just last, but is the last to be told so by his former best friend running off with his fiancée.

And, even worse, the Baxter's next in line just as the final piece of wedding cake is handed out at the new twosome's wedding.

Hand it to Michael Showalter, who shows his non-Baxter stuff as writer/director/star of the film about those who know that love means never having to say you're sorry - because there's no one around to hear it.

Part of the stellar mad-cap Stella - a comedy troupe now with a Comedy Central series whose Marx-like antics have all to do with Groucho and nothing at all to do with Karl - Showalter plays the benign Baxter (aka Elliot Sherman) as a luckless lad with a big "B" tatooed on his furrowed brow.

"The Baxter" opens in the area on Friday, Sept. 16.

The character seems so Jewish - think Woody Allen looking to carve out his own Nietzsche in life while debating Albert Brooks on the existential meaning of bagel holes - and you have Baxter big-time.

Enough with Baxter-bashing. Did he ever think of calling him … Shlomo?

Showalter ponders the notion. "It could have worked," he says.

But then what's in a name? Plenty, it turns out.

Showalter, 35, came up with the moniker for the arrested-development archtype because he wanted it to sound universal. But Shlomo … Why not? It couldn't hurt! "You know who he is," says Showalter. "Baxter is the Mensch. He's the Pickle Guy from [the film] 'Crossing Delancey,' that nice Jewish boy who the girl discovers is not really the one she had in mind."

What Showalter had in mind was a romantic comedy, showcasing his admiration for the screwball antics of '30s films, in which Baxters befriended not bedded the hot women and could only carry Cary Grant's walking stick, not his airs.

Is being Baxter so bad? "Baxter's the real deal - the one who buys groceries for his girls's bubby and goes to shul."

So, Baxter could have gone anywhere, but he decided to go to temple. Actually, Showalter concedes, "I couldn't decide if Baxter was Jewish or not. I didn't want to make such a statement."

But "Baxter" says a lot; it's clever, caring - and creatively daring and dear.

How sweet - exactly! says the filmmaker. "I tried to make a movie that is utterly sweet. Baxter is polite to a fault."

The only fault line running through his life is the San Andreas of agitators - Bradley Lake (played by Justin Theroux), who shows up Showalter's character in every scene.

Justin's Lake also shows up just in time to ruin the Baxter's wedding plans to the dreamy elegant Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks). Swann … Lake? All that's missing is a Tchaikovsky for the perfect match!

And that's the match point for Baxter, too, who, dumped and trashed by his sweetheart, finds that happiness may just be a Glad bag away after all in the guise of another cutie right under his upturned nose.

Ever feel like a Baxter, Michael?

"Yeah," he says. "I identify with Eliott trying so hard."

And yet, unlike his screen character, Showalter is a Brooklyn dodger - eschewing all the securities that tie Baxter down and up. "I've never had job security, a steady paycheck," says Showalter of what it means to be a comedic showman.

College Cut-Ups
But the successes have been many, nevertheless. Before creating Stella with his New York University buds - Michael Ian Black and David Wain, both in the film - the trio triumphed as the State: an act of country humor if the country were in chaos.

Showalter, who also co-wrote, co-produced and starred in "Wet Hot American Summer," is a seasoned actor, having appeared in the original off-Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "How I Learned to Drive."

Obviously, life's lessons came with speed bumps, but Showalter managed to steer clear of the career craziness attendant to his chosen path of glory, which has included stopoffs as a writer for Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."

Driven he may be, but "there's been no road map," says Showalter of his career.

If the Jewish juggernaut numbers himself one of the lucky and happy ones, his benign Baxter is on the other side of the equation, an accountant who cries red ink.

Just why did the Baxter - whose idea of a calendar girl is one born on April 15 - have to be an accountant? "It was either that or a dentist - both of which I think are boring jobs done by boring guys."

But if the Baxter makes book on the notion that bad things happen to good people, he gets a comeuppance that may come as a shock to audiences.

What's even more startling is that this comedian/director/writer who created him - whose Stella screams of the avant-garde - may be guarding his real intent. Maybe, says Showalter, his future lies in a merry mix of the chaotic and the comically romantic, which explains his next project - "an urbane comedy."

So, nice guys finish … first? Won't be the first time, Showalter's smile suggests.

 

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