As Song of Back and Neck opens, Fred (Paul Lieberstein) is slithering out of bed, a bit to our confusion. Why is he crawling room-to-room, brushing his teeth while lying on the floor and eating his cereal horizontally in his kitchen?
Turns out Fred suffers from chronic back and neck pain, a painful combo that makes most daily tasks feel Herculean. He is a paralegal at his father’s firm, often feeling demeaned by his much younger boss (Clark Duke). Fred is tasked with taking notes during client meetings but is struck one day by Regan (Rosemarie DeWitt), a client in need of a divorce attorney, who takes a liking to Fred. Regan suffers from some of the same chronic pain and suggests Fred sees her acupuncturist. Pain is what brings them together, sparking a bit of awkward chemistry that leads to them going on a few dates. Fred and Regan seem to come into each other’s lives at just the right time, finding common ground in a much-needed distraction.
“…Fred suffers from chronic back and neck pain, a painful combo that makes most daily tasks feel Herculean.”
Lieberstein wrote and directed the film, which explores familiar territory without much new insight or reflection. There’s a bit of a surrealist musical element to the movie in an attempt to shake the narrative up a bit, but it all feels more distracting than elevating.
Best known as Toby from TV’s The Office, Lieberstein brings that soft-spoken, world-weary bit to his performance here but unlike the constantly berated HR representative, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Fred. He went to work with his father when he was younger and 25 years later is still working for him, feeling stuck but has no interest in doing anything to help himself. How are we supposed to cheer for a protagonist, who so rarely wants to help himself?
Song of Back and Neck is Liberstein’s first feature outing (he has several television credits, including The Office), and while it’s an amiable effort, there’s not much to grasp onto in his film.
Song of Back and Neck (2018). Directed by Paul Lieberstein. Written by Paul Lieberstein. Starring Paul Lieberstein, Rosemarie DeWitt, Clark Duke.
4 out of 10