The Ex pits an asshole versus an imbecile—and one imagines it’s supposed to be clear with whom viewers are supposed to side. Formerly known as Fast Track and repeatedly delayed, Jesse Peretz’s comedy (written by a pair of freshmen) tries to envelope-push like South Park and stage highly awkward scenes like The Office. The results are merely an embarrassment for all involved.
The film stars Zach Braff and Amanda Peet as Tom and Sofia, a New York couple on the verge of parenthood. Sofia is quitting her career as a lawyer to be not a housewife but “a full-time mom”—she actually makes this distinction to a co-worker—hoping that Tom, a chef in line for a promotion, can support the family. When Tom ends up in a maximum–high jinks scuffle with his boss (Paul Rudd) and gets fired, though, they obviously need a new plan. The solution: moving to Ohio so Tom can finally take up an offer from his father-in-law (Charles Grodin) to join his advertising company. (The fact that Tom doesn’t have any experience in the field is apparently not an issue.) Once there, Tom finds out he’ll be working under Chip (Jason Bateman), a paralyzed former cheerleader who was slightly more than friends with Sofia in high school. Chip is an awful human being who tries to sabotage Tom because he still carries a torch for Sofia. Naturally, no one believes Tom when he starts to make accusations. After all, how could a guy in a wheelchair be a jerk?
The script veers from the absurd to the appalling as the conflict plays out. Tom’s new workplace is ridiculous—and, considering it’s small-town Ohio, not terribly believable—teeming with cartoonish New Age types and practices such as tossing around an invisible “yes ball” to encourage a positive, freethinking atmosphere. Bob, Sofia’s father, spouts intolerable psychobabble while her mother (Mia Farrow) just babbles. Tom has a gift for only-in-a-wacky-comedy gaffes. And besides Rudd, other usually ace comedians such as Donal Logue and Fred Armisen make unfunny appearances as a superhippie corporate mogul and a bisexual perv, respectively.
The humor isn’t merely bad, however—it’s often jaw-droppingly racist and offensive to homosexuals (the word “gay” is used pejoratively on a couple occasions) and the disabled (a wheelchair basketball game is set to “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”). The very few jokes that work are quashed by the nastiness of the rest.
As Braff and Bateman belittle themselves, Peet gets the most interesting storyline. Sofia’s initial joy at motherhood turns into loneliness at being home all day and frustration with the one outlet she does find, a “baby group” whose mothers are psychotics who emphasize approaches such as asking infants permission before doing anything to them. Sofia is not immune to the script’s caricature, but the character is by far the most human and sympathetic especially considering that she ultimately has not one baby to deal with, but three.