It’s hard to get me to dislike anything with Jenny Slate in it, but writer/director Brian Shoaf has pulled it off with stunning efficiency. The oddly-named Aardvark doesn’t have squat to do with aardvarks, not that anyone would think it should, but it doesn’t have much to do with anything else, either. Ostensibly a film about mental illness, it is instead about the quirky love triangle that forms between a dangerously incompetent therapist, her unstable patient, and his TV star brother. While there could be some solid comic/dramatic tension to be mined from that scenario, Aardvark is too poorly written and stagnant to do so.
Slate stars as Emily, the aforementioned therapist, er, “licensed clinical social worker”, who probably should have that title removed post haste. Her chief patient is Josh (Zachary Quinto), a troubled guy with serious mental health issues. Some might call him quirky, but he’s always teetering on the edge of something violent, and has begun seeing people who may or may not actually exist. His problems seem to stem from his estranged brother Craig (Jon Hamm), a TV star who is supposedly “one of the great talents”, although Emily has never heard of the guy. Then again she doesn’t watch too much TV. Not sure why, she doesn’t seem to be studying up on her chosen field, and there’s some questionable history of a sexual nature in her background that’s never fully explored.
Shoaf hints at it perhaps when she sleeps with Craig after knowing him for about 5 minutes, after the actor makes a random appearance at her home. Craig’s sudden return, along with the awkwardness between doctor and patient, only exacerbates Josh’s condition. He thinks he’s been seeing Craig every day for years, disguised as various people he encounters. He may even be the pretty young woman (Sheila Vand) who has taken a strange fondness to Josh.
We’re invited to speculate about the possibility any or all of these characters are figments of someone’s imagination. Shoaf writes and stages each conversation in such a stilted manner none of them appear to be real, and there is virtually no insight into Josh’s mental illness and how family dysfunction have contributed to them. But that goes unexplored other than a handful of poorly-explained, austere flashbacks to a single moment in Josh and Craig’s childhood, and yes it does involve an aardvark. None of it adds up in a way that makes us understand who these characters are. Shoaf has wasted an opportunity to tackle an issue that millions of people struggle with, but he’s also flushed away the talents of Slate, Hamm, and Quinto who are all stuck in this soulless and meaningless rut. If only Aardvark were also a figment of the imagination, then it would be easier to forget what a waste of 90 minutes it was.