After my fourth viewing, I came to the sad conclusion that no, there isn’t really anything here we haven’t seen before. Why Stop Now is a run-of-the-mill comedy with Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo, and Tracy Morgan giving their usual performances in a by-the-numbers story the “a funny thing happened on the way to” type – in fact, that’s most of the film’s tagline right there. Still, what it lacks in creativity and novelty it makes up for in unrelentingly sticking to its story no matter how far-fetched and unbelievable it may be.
Why Stop Now is the story of Eli (Eisenberg), a gifted pianist, who is set to audition for a prestigious music program. He has one stop to make first, and that is the rehab for his mother, Penny (Leo). While it would be an understatement to say Penny’s not at all interested in rehab, she agrees to go for the sake of her children who she clearly loves. There’s just one problem. During check-in, a counselor denies Penny a room because (a) she has a clean urine sample and (b) she doesn’t have insurance. Amusingly, he advises her – of the record, of course – to score and return when she can produce “dirty” urine so he can get her into the program. This scene and the one following in which Penny explains the situation to Leo are quite funny. Thus begins the farcical turn of events as Eli must get his mother high so she can go into rehab and he can make his audition.
The duo heads to the house of Penny’s dealer, Sprinkles (Morgan), who is hanging with his associate, Black (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), and his mother. Of course, Sprinkles is currently out of drugs and is on the phone trying to negotiate a deal to buy more so he can meet his customers’ demands. The Spanish drug dealer with whom Sprinkles is attempting to negotiate unfortunately speaks no English. Enter Eli who miraculously speaks Spanish (picking it up in high school, apparently) and thus becomes part of the deal. He’s drafted into visiting Eduardo (Paul Calderon) and negotiating on Sprinkles’ behalf.
The group heads to Eli’s audition, where he doesn’t play as well as he could have because of an injury sustained during the drug deal. Never fear, he will return at the film’s end to re-audition. The time in between the first and second audition is filled with the further misadventures of the group – Eli, Penny, Sprinkles, Black, and, somewhere along the way, Eli’s little sister Nicole (Emma Rayne Lyle). An almost interlude-like story involving the girl Eli likes is thrown in as well as a possible abduction of Nicole by Penny’s well-meaning sister. As hard as the writer/director team try, these moments are not integral to the adventure and feel tacked on – perhaps in lengthening what is basically a short-subject film into a feature (indeed, it’s based on Nyswaner’s short film Predisposed).
For what it is and for 85 minutes of what it is, it’s not a bad film but there isn’t much here to write home about. It’s good that the film is relatively short because it barely contains enough of a story for the 85-minute running time. The principal cast portrays characters we’ve not only seen before but actually seen before as performed by these very actors. Of course, Eisenberg, Leo, and Morgan are quite good at playing these characters and don’t disappoint. I just wish they had more with which to work. Yes, there is a great setup and a satisfying ending, but the big part in the middle is only moderately funny, charming, touching, or all that interesting.