Have you ever sent out a post on social media that backfired on you? More than likely, the answer is yes.That’s the case for Sid Straw (Tony Hale), a man whose humdrum life finds excitement when he becomes the co-chair for his college reunion. Fueled by the desire to impress those around him, he sends out an invite to Elizabeth Banks, a very mild acquaintance from his college days Sid hopes will attend. Having just discovered social media in order to connect with Banks, Sid doesn’t realize that he’s posting this message where everyone can see – an ignorance that takes an even more unfortunate turn when Sid begins to message her constantly, eventually having his flurry of one-sided correspondence go viral.
Based on Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters, naturally focused on Heather Locklear as opposed to Banks, Eat Wheaties! examines how our relationship to celebrities has become more and more blurred in the social media era, as the perceived familiarity with them through these online accounts tricks us into losing sight of their individuality. We have comfort with celebrities, an idea that we know them because we see them on talk shows or through their carefully curated social media posts. Sid soon realizes that not only does social media give you an open invitation to reach out to someone you knew briefly in college, but also that it opens up your world to a torrent of viral dunking if you send out the wrong Facebook posts.
Sid could be portrayed as a sad creep, yet writer/director Scott Abramovitch takes an approach far more empathetic than the simple belittlement of its protagonist one might expect from the premise. While Eat Wheaties! does plenty of work to critique our unhealthy relationship with social media through Sid, it also centers itself on this story of one man, addressing the ways that he is failing himself, and where he needs to go in order to break through to a point where he doesn’t need this outside validation in order to feel good about himself. While still maintaining the cringe comedy of a person like Sid messing up on this scale, this is primarily a story about him finding his self-worth.
With an excellent performance from Tony Hale, Abramovitch is able to manage the perfect balance between allowing us to like Sid and care about him, while also understanding why people around him could find him irritating. He tries way too hard, he puts his foot in his mouth often, he gets in his own way at every turn. He has burned bridges with people like his sister-in-law Janet (Elisha Cuthbert), who is holding a grudge over a big move that Sid made at her wedding in order to get attention. She’s one of many characters who dismisses Sid, and it’s not until his brother Tom (David Walton) reaches out to him that he realizes maybe it is time to figure out why he’s trying to fill this hole in himself with all of the wrong things.
Ultimately, Eat Wheaties! succeeds due to its commitment to character, aided by a robust ensemble of talented comedic actors all doing strong work. Memorable faces like Lamorne Morris and Sarah Goldberg make impressions with just a few short scenes, allowing us to understand their characters without any need for exposition or detailed backstories. Everyone brings their fair share of laughs, as the film does have plenty of great moments of (mostly cringe-based) comedy, but at its core it always comes from a place with a lot of heart, and an understanding of Sid and the people in his life.
Paul Walter Hauser and Danielle Brooks stand out as two of the characters who bond with Sid the most; Hauser portraying a lawyer Sid hires to help him after he is banned from the reunion, and Brooks a server at Sid’s favorite restaurant. These two relationships speak to the warmth that radiates from Abramovitch’s writing and directing, a commitment to never judging any of his characters, whether it’s Sid or someone like Janet, who could initially be seen as rather unlikable.
Everyone has dimension to them, and at the end of the day, Eat Wheaties! more than anything else is about the simple power of kindness towards your fellow person. It may sound silly or saccharine, but particularly in the world that we are living in right now, having a film that is genuinely about how much difference being decent can make in a person’s life feels like the message we need for this moment. Abramovitch has crafted a feature that effectively makes you want to approach the world in a different way after watching it. There’s an earnestness to this film that finds exactly the right register in which to speak truth to what we all need to hear a little bit more of these days.