Pandemic-set comedies are such a hard thing to pull off. Making fun of COVID can be done, especially as we’re now a bit removed from the worst of it all, but it’s still tricky. Comedies, dramas, really every genre has looked to the pandemic for unusual inspiration. Road trip comedies in particular do have the potential to overcome the hurdles, but it’s clearly rife with landmines to navigate. While elements of Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying works and the whole thing feels pretty harmless, it never fully manages to justify its existence or that it’s utilizing COVID as a plot point. Playing at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s a decidedly minor effort of a movie.
Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying wants to be the sort of film that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of filmmaking, but the dagger is far too dull. There isn’t much sharpness here, with the added pandemic element wholly unnecessary. It all sounds better in theory than in execution, which is what ultimately dooms this Tribeca flick.
Best friends Parker (Parker Seaman), Devin (Devin Das), and Wes (Wes Schlagenhauf) are aspiring filmmakers struggling to make it in the business. When Wes has had enough and leaves Hollywood for his midwestern home, the trio is now a duo. A few years later, the pandemic is raging and Wes has come down with COVID. They haven’t seen their friend in a while, and that brief moment of guilt formulates into a bit of a scheme.
Seeing opportunity, Parker and Devin recruit a Cameo video from Mark Duplass (Mark Duplass), which leads to the formation of an idea. They’ll drive to Iowa to see Wes, recording a documentary along the way. Of course, the pair have very different ideas about filmmaking, leading to conflict after conflict, building to a head when they get Wes involved while COVID has the best of him.
The trio have their moments, even if their performances are on the bland side. Wes Schlagenhauf doesn’t get the same amount of screen time, so his contributions feel more limited, but Devin Das and Parker Seaman are basically in every scene. They have a nice chemistry together, even if they do get on your nerves. It’s intentional though, so that’s not really a complaint, either. The small supporting cast, in addition to the aforementioned Mark Duplass, includes D’Arcy Carden, Aparna Nancherla, and more.
Both Devin Das and Parker Seaman share writing duties here, with Seaman directing. It’s uneven all around, but not without its charms. Some scenes work better than others. A highlight is a montage of fast food restaurant dining set to the recent John Mayer song “Last Train Home.” At the same time, Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying is filled with scenes that go on too long, which is noticeable when the film doesn’t even reach 80 minutes long. Festival movies on the shorter side are usually a plus, but at the same time, it can’t feel like it’s got a ton of filler. Then, there’s the laissez faire handling of COVID. It’s never disrespectful, but it walks up to the line in a way that’s just not necessary.
Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying has little bits that work, even if the final product leaves you wanting more. Playing at the Tribeca Film Festival right now, it may well end up lost in the shuffle, and while it hardly deserves to be ignored, it just never does enough to make you latch on to it. When it comes to Tribeca, you certainly can do worse, but you clearly can do much better as well.