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By Merle Bertrand | March 18, 2005

“‘Til death do us part.” These are the wedding vows Max (David Krumholtz) takes very seriously. The problem is, his wife Grace (Natasha Lyonne) is a little too eager to speed up the process, which is ironic, since Max would not have even met his haunted, suicide-obsessed bride if he hadn’t himself been admitted to the same mental institution for repeatedly trying to kill himself.

While they say “love kills,” Max is determined to prove otherwise. As such, he breaks out of the hospital with the assistance of a motley assortment of residents. After tying up his clueless but well-meaning parents (Lorraine Bracco and David Paymer) at home to prevent them from calling the authorities, the newlyweds are off on a bizarre road trip to Sheboygan, Wisconsin. It’s here that Max hopes Grace will at last be able to confront the demons that haunt her; that they can turn “’til death do us part” into “happily ever after.”

Equal parts “Garden State” meets “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” director Michael Parness’ ridiculous-in-a-good-way road trip from hell isn’t exactly your typical romantic comedy…which is a bit like saying Tiger Woods isn’t your typical golfer. Name another film in which both members of the romantic lead couple are escapees from a mental institution, for instance, and one of them — Krumholtz’s Max — is actually a sort of straight man who centers all the lunacy surrounding him.

Lyonne also does a splendid job in her turn as the trippy-dippy schizophrenic Grace, allowing the audience to laugh with her and cheer for her as she comes to terms with her tragic, spotty past.

The colorful supporting cast adds a lot, too, headed up by Rosanna Arquette’s bitter, unlucky-at-love mental patient Vera, Karen Black’s brief but memorably bizarre outing as Grace’s delusional mother, and four — count ’em, four — roles by Tim Blake Nelson. Throw in a splash of strategically placed special effects, clever editing, and a groovy soundtrack, and you’ve got the makings of an endearing, if slightly disturbing film that stands out from the usual crowded crop of bland romantic comedies.

For all its goofiness and gallows humor, however, “Max and Grace” ultimately proves one other well-worn cliché: That when all is said and done, life really is for the living.

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