Despite appearing in films since the early 1980s, actor Seth Green is primarily known for three things: playing Dr. Evil’s son Scott in the Austin Powers trilogy, doing a million voices on Family Guy, and creating the Adult Swim animated series Robot Chicken. (“Kenny Fisher in Can’t Hardly Wait!” my wife is yelling at me, as I write this.) While there are certainly worse things to be famous for, Green’s capabilities as an artist have so far been diminished to his eccentric comedic antics. With his latest writing/directing effort, the travelogue melodrama (melodramatic travelogue?) Changeland, Green exposes a more intimate, subdued side to his persona. Most importantly, it reunites the actor with his Party Monster co-star, the great Macaulay Culkin.
Green plays Brandon who, after finding out that his wife Vanessa (Rachel Bloom, whom we only hear over the phone) has been cheating on him with her music teacher, embarks on their planned romantic journey to Thailand by himself. Well, not exactly by himself – he reconnects with an old friend, photographer Dan (Breckin Meyer), on his stopover in Dubai. “You want to fight for it or not?” Dan asks him, echoing the film’s main theme. “Everything else will follow.”
“…after finding out that his wife Vanessa… has been cheating on him with her music teacher… embarks on their planned romantic journey to Thailand by himself…”
Once they reach the stunning island of Phuket, the two buddies go on a comprehensive tour and meet beautiful guides Dory and Pen (Clare Grant and Brenda Song), all the while delving deep into the azure ocean waters, as well as their increasingly distant friendship and Brandon’s fractured relationship. A “Fast & Furious”-like speedboat takes our heroes to another island, where free-spirited Ian (Culkin) declares: “Get ready to have your mind blown by coral,” before pulling them onto his “Lego-like boat.” Together, they party, smoke weed, have flings with the ladies and get their a***s whooped on a wrestling ring.
Yes, not much actually happens in Changeland plot-wise, but this was intended as more of a mood piece, peppered with tiny but resonant moments, and as such, it functions quite well. Nothing here will make you slap your knee in laughter; the humor is more gentle, Green scaling back on his usual shtick and displaying real assuredness and restraint as a director. There are moments that border on transcendent, such as our buddies visiting and going through a ritual at a candlelit Buddhist temple inside a mystical cave. Granted, there are also misjudged sequences, such as the running gag of Brandon and Dan continuously being mistaken for a gay couple.
“…portrays the country as a place of redemption…a paradise folks visit to find themselves and feel loved.”
Thailand is a gorgeous place and Green’s cinematographer Patrick Ruth seems to have had a blast capturing the country’s idyllic beauty, from emerald boulders jutting out of azure waters to humid, moonlit street corners. Seth portrays the country as a place of redemption…a paradise folks visit to find themselves and feel loved. Some may argue that it’s a simplistic depiction of a country with a complex history and a tumultuous regime, but Green is not interested in politics – his earnestness eradicates notions of distastefulness.
Green’s sullen, morose Brandon treads the line of “whiny,” but there are moments – one particular one taking place by a waterfall – where the actor showcases a side of him not previously seen: introverted and unpredictable, insecure and lost. Meyer (where has he been?) has an easy charm and likeability that makes him completely believable as the dependable friend. Sporting bunny ears, Macaulay Culkin livens up the film halfway through its running time, his character a livewire. “How can I miss a life if I’m busy livin’ it?” he exclaims, and you believe him.
Slight but likable, Changeland deals with moving on and the healing powers of travel and friendship. Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s low-budget cousin, it’ll hopefully finally establish Green as more than just the “Zip It!” guy.
Changeland (2019) Written and Directed by Seth Green. Starring Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Brenda Song, Clare Grant, Randy Orton, Macaulay Culkin.
7 out of 10