There are two kinds of JK Simmons movies. The ones where he focuses those ice-blue eyes to maximum cold-fury effect, portraying sadists and psychos, from neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger in ‘Oz’ to the brutal jazz-percussion teacher from ‘Whiplash’. And those where his appealingly sagging, almost Droopy-ish features are employed to bring out warm, loveable patriarchs like the dad in ‘Juno’. With ‘The Bachelors’, Kurt Voelker’s gentle, light-hearted grief-flick, we are definitely not getting psycho Simmons.
Here he is Bill Palet, a calculus teacher reeling so painfully from the untimely death of his wife that he suddenly relocates to a new town and school with his teenage son, Wes (Josh Wiggins). It’s another fine-tuned turn: Bill is washed out, utterly hollowed by his grief, amiably going through the self-healing motions with little sense of any positive effect.
But writer-director Voelker (who wrote the 2001’s Keanu Reeves/Charlize Theron romance ‘Sweet November’) fails to make the most of what should be his leading man, devoting more of his narrative to the adolescent Wes, who throws his energies into the cross-country team and a relationship with self-harming misfit Lacy (Odeya Rush from ‘Lady Bird’). It does not make for an especially engaging drama, being peppered with high-school-movie clichés (yes, there’s an objectionable jock) and weighed down by a workmanlike script that feels as unconvincing as all the therapy jargon tossed Bill’s way by his counsellor (Harold Perrineau).
There are tears, there is laughter, there are ups, there are downs, there is hugging and there is learning, but none of it will leave an impression. Instead, it leaves you only with a faint yearning for a proper, scary-Simmons chair-hurling freak-out.