Raiff stars as Andrew, a recent graduate of Tulane University whose main goal is to earn enough money to follow his girlfriend to Barcelona. He’s mostly aimless, scraping funds together by living at home in suburban New Jersey, and working at a mall food court restaurant with the awesomely terrible name of Meat Sticks. But he stumbles into an actual job as a party-starter on the local bar and bat mitzvah circuit, urging awkward adolescents and their slightly inebriated parents to get on the dance floor and do the Electric Slide. Raiff and his production design team clearly had a ball coming up with the specific details for all these themed events, and the way he captures the nervous energy of this youthful time of flux will make you shudder in recognition.
On one of these nights, he connects with Johnson’s character, a single mom named Domino, and her teenage daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), who’s autistic. The fact that he’s drawn to them and insistent that they have a good time feels like a natural expression of who this guy is: a big-hearted goofball, sweet and upbeat and—above all else—eager to laugh at himself to ensure everyone else is laughing. An opening flashback to a decade earlier, when he was a 12-year-old guest at a party like this, reveals that Andrew has always been a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. He may not be the most complicated character here, but the consistency of his simplicity allows others to evolve who aren’t quite so sure of themselves. Raiff is likable and often hilarious, but he’s also in every single scene, so one could imagine that his idiosyncratic sense of humor might eventually become grating to some viewers.
Andrew’s attraction to Domino is obvious, even though she informs him she has a fiancé, a lawyer who happens to be out of town a lot for work. (A stoic and stiff Raúl Castillo drops in sporadically to assert his territoriality over these two women, and while his outsider nature is the point, it’s also a distraction. He just doesn’t make sense in this world.) But it’s his friendship with Lola that’s the real surprise—not that it exists, but rather how it blossoms. It would have been so easy and lazy to make this relationship play out in a feel-good, mawkish way. Lola is a few years older than the other kids in her grade, and she’s the frequent target of bullying. But rather than swoop in as her savior, Andrew shows genuine interest in her as a pal; Domino asks if he’ll babysit Lola some nights, which he gladly does, but he treats her as an equal and takes an interest in her hobbies. Burghardt shows great poise and comic timing in her first film role, and is a joy to watch.