Old but apt joke: what did the blind man say when he was handed a piece of matzo? ”Who wrote this nonsense?” If you didn’t know that Sour Grapes (Columbia), Larry David’s first feature, was by the cocreator of Seinfeld, you’d think: What’s the deal with this dyspeptic, disagreeable comedy? One protagonist’s chief talent is auto-fellatio; the other, a surgeon, accidentally removes the wrong, healthy testicle from a patient, subsequently dispatching the other, resulting in a castrato-pitched voice that leaves the man — a TV-sitcom star — unemployable. This is the comedic future of American cinema?
But, of course, you do know about David and Seinfeld. And as a result, Sour Grapes becomes an interesting dyspeptic, disagreeable comedy, one that elaborates on Seinfeldian themes with an acridness undiluted (and uncontrolled) by sitcom proprieties: It’s misanthropic kin to the death-by-noxious-envelope-glue retiring of George Costanza’s fiancee. Richie (Craig Bierko), the limber one, is part George, part Kramer, a selfish doofus who hits a slot-machine jackpot but refuses to share the windfall with the cousin who staked him the winning quarters; Evan (Steven Weber), the surgeon, fills the Jerry role, saner but equally bullheaded in the peeves that propel the plot — a classic escalation of absurdity — opera buffa style. (The classical-music interludes are reminiscent of those in Seinfeld’s ”Barber” episode.)
Scholars will notice various recurring Davidian obsessions — not nearly as charming in long form — including a shrill, overbearing mother (Viola Harris) whose son’s activities land her in the hospital and a neurotic fascination with the homeless, who here turn a house into a fetid sty. Students will also appreciate that Richie’s girlfriend — with a tedious Noo Yawk princess voice — is played by Robyn Peterman, daughter of the real catalog king mythologized in the Seinfeld canon. C-