Eat Wheaties!

Eat Wheaties! is not about cereal, it's about Elizabeth Banks. Well, sort of. The movie is based on Michael Kun's novel “The Locklear Letters,” which was about Heather Locklear. Well, sort of, again. In both cases, a popular actress changes the life of a complete stranger. Locklear's career isn't what it once was, so writer/director Scott Abramovitch (The Calling) has Banks take over her function in the story. She's a perfect choice because, while wildly successful, there is something about her that seems approachable, and that makes the lead character's actions more understandable than they might otherwise.

Sid Straw (Tony Hale) is a dour office worker. His life seems on the verge of perking up when he's asked to be the co-chair of his college's West Coast reunion. Finally, a chance to be recognized for his accomplishments! During his planning, he discovers that Elizabeth Banks was a classmate. (The title refers to how the actress supposedly said farewell to friends.) They really didn't know each other, but there's a picture of them together in a group. Sid gets on her Facebook page and posts a message, inviting her to the event.

That's when things start to get crazy. No one at his workplace or in his family believes he knows the actress, so he gets more and more desperate to prove their connection. To that end, Sid keeps on messaging Banks, spilling awkward details about his personal life and repeatedly requesting an autographed picture. Before long, he's unintentionally internet-stalking her. The situation continues to spiral out of control, leading him to hire an unqualified lawyer (Paul Walter Hauser) to help him in court when his role in the reunion is jeopardized.

Eat Wheaties! has a stellar cast that also includes Sarah Burns as Sid's tentative new girlfriend; David Walton and Elisha Cuthbert as his brother and sister-in-law; Mimi Kennedy and Phil Reeves as his parents; Alan Tudyk as an intermittently supportive college pal; Lamorne Morris as a coworker; Danielle Brooks as a waitress; and Sarah Chalke as Banks's agent. The sizes of their roles vary, but like Hale and Hauser, all deliver perfectly calibrated performances.

The primary theme in the movie is the impact a celebrity can have on a civilian's life without ever knowing it. Despite social media profiles, published interviews, and often personal bodies of work, stars are still blank slates to a degree. We can project onto them anything we want. We can even convince ourselves that we'd be their best friends if we only knew them in real life. Eat Wheaties! tracks how Sid convinces himself that Elizabeth Banks would either: 1.) remember him; or 2.) receive him warmly if she didn't remember him simply because they share an alma mater. That's an incisive observation of how the one-sided relationship works.

I laughed quite a bit at the picture. Tony Hale is very funny as Sid, and his co-stars all get their individual opportunities to shine. Seeing how Sid becomes pathetically obsessed with Banks is amusing. The reactions of others to his obsession is even more so. In the third act, Eat Wheaties! grows a bit too serious, trying to generate a heartfelt redemption for its hapless protagonist. Thankfully, though, Abramovitch avoids going the clichéd route, wrapping the story up in a more original manner.

That makes the movie a smart, satiric look at the moth-to-a-flame allure of celebrity.

out of four

Eat Wheaties! is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.