What if Groundhog Day wasn’t a movie about a weatherman trapped in an unexplainable time loop but instead presented it as a daily re-do of his own choosing? Well, if you squint your eyes a little and cock your head, you can kinda see that’s exactly what director Robert Schwartzman (brother of Jason) was going for in The Argument. The quirky little indie flick follows a showbiz couple (she’s a minor actress, he’s a fledgling screenwriter) who get into the titular tiff one night—only to go to bed angry, neither of them sure who won… which leads them to re-enact the night over and over until a victor can be declared.
It all starts on closing night for Lisa (Emma Bell), who comes home from the theater to a surprise dinner party thrown by her boyfriend Jack (Dan Fogler). Odd-couple Brett (Dany Pudi) and Sarah (Maggie Q) are the first to arrive, followed by Lisa’s co-star Paul (Tyler James Williams) and his new girlfriend Trina (Cleopatra Coleman). Despite being suspicious that Lisa and Paul may be having some extracurricular fun, Jack is eager to put a ring on it and solidify his relationship. The night doesn’t go as planned, though, and before long, Jack and Lisa are both going at each other in front of the group.
The couple then decides (since neither will admit fault) to get the gang back together and replay the entire evening the following night to figure out who is in the right. Jack and Lisa do everything the same and even say the same things (eventually their friends begin to clue in to what’s going on and agree to help), but, still, no one is able to name a “winner”. So they try again. And again. And again… even relying on Sarah’s photographic memory to script everything down to the word. And then, after failing to reach a consensus after a dozen or so takes, they take the next logical step of hiring a posse of local actors to play the roles, so the couples can look at the situation objectively.
It’s a unique premise, to be sure, and screenwriter Zac Stanford clearly had a ball putting all the moving parts together. Reminiscent of Michael Frayn’s hilarious play (and 1992 film) Noises Off, The Argument evolves into a rapid-fire, laugh-a-second bit of nuttiness once it finds its groove around the half-hour mark. It’s slapsticky without being stupid, and eventually becomes a pretty solid take on the pitfalls inherent in relatively nascent relationships.
Fogler, whose brusque, wild-eyed demeanor has served him well in everything from TV’s The Goldbergs to 2011’s underrated Take Me Home Tonight, leads the way in The Argument, serving as the ringmaster for this circus of crazy, and the entire supporting cast (including a deliciously drole Maggie Q) are clearly all-in for the ride. As for Schwartzman, who had the unenviable task of shooting the exact same scene over and over again, he deftly keeps all the plates up in the air and never lets the film’s repetitive premise feel, well, repetitive.
A zany and inventive diversion, The Argument does exactly what it sets out to do. The clever and tightly choreographed examination of the politics of love may not provide any earth-shattering revelations or a be-all/end-all conclusion about couple-dom, but it will make you laugh and even forget about the world for a few moments, and there’s little debate that we could all use some of that right now.