Men from Milton Berle, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Flip Wilson to Nathan Lane and Tyler Perry have milked laughs by wearing women’s clothes, but Sean Hayes, the out gay actor and co-writer of “Lazy Susan,” barely generates a smile playing the skirt- and dress-wearing heroine of this unfunny comedy.
Hayes is the title character, Susan O’Connell, an adult woman who acts like a teenager. She’s lazy. She’s messy. She’s unmotivated. Susan does not have a job and does not really want to work. She is late with her rent and often borrows money from her mother (Margo Martindale). She fights with her “perfect” brother Cameron (Kiel Kennedy), and lies to almost everyone. She wants a relationship but needs to learn to love herself.
Unfortunately, the humor in “Lazy Susan” is mostly one-note. Susan uses an automated wheelchair because it’s too much effort to walk. She puts ketchup in her navel to dip French fries because it is easier. When she has sex, she is too tired to get on top. Get it?
“Lazy Susan” could have been funnier if it played some of these gags as deadpan, minimalist comedy. But the screenplay, written by Hayes and his co-stars Carrie Aizley and Darlene Hunt, is rarely inventive or inspired. A scene in a trampoline gym is followed by someone vomiting in the bathroom. A young child repeats the word “blowjob” after she hears her parents use it. Humor doesn’t have to be high brow, but it shouldn’t be so predictable. Or, to put it in terms the filmmakers might understand, it shouldn’t be so indolent, idle, slothful, or l-a-z-y.
The thin narrative has Susan trying to self-improve. Her family is tired of her mooching off them, and they refuse to let her join them on a trip to Niagara Falls unless she pays her own way. Still, she finds some positives in her life — at least temporarily. Best friend Corrin (Aizley) enters them into a local radio station talent contest, and they perform the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” on flute and ukulele — yuk yuk. Susan also begins a promising romance with Phil (Jim Rash) after he hits her car and they start dating. But things predictably go south when Susan’s relationships with both become strained and she is evicted from her apartment. What’s a woman to do?
Hayes commits to playing Susan; he is always a lady here and never a man in drag. (Thankfully, the film resists campiness and wink-wink double entendres.) But he never makes her particularly sympathetic. She asks friends for favors but is not there for them in their time of need. And she is insensitive and socially awkward, even with her church pastor.
Susan and her mother yelling at each other over a loud humidifier offers a bit of amusement, even if strained. And there is a nice rivalry between Susan and Velvet (Allison Janney) at the K-mart where Susan shops and Velvet is working her way up to manager. When these characters have a heart to heart chat late in the film, it is almost touching. Almost.
But there is an emotional hollowness to “Lazy Susan,” and its underdeveloped characters never earn our empathy. The jealousy between Susan and Velvet forms the one relatable connection in the film. Otherwise, it’s a tiresome repetition of Susan exploiting those in her life. But why? Because she lost a job she may never really have wanted?
Hayes’ Susan is ultimately lifeless. Janney delivers a decent turn because she has a character to play — unlike Martindale, who is wasted in a thankless role. As Susan’s landlord, Matthew Broderick has a superfluous cameo.
It’s Aizley who shines here, stealing her scenes with sarcastic verve.
Susan’s one demonstrated skill is her flair collaging. If only “Lazy Susan” had not been so crudely pasted together.
LAZY SUSAN | Directed by Nick Peet | Shout! Studios | On digital & on demand Apr. 3