A few weeks ago I made what, for me, is a slightly odd choice and decided to watch College Humor’s first full-length movie, Coffee Town. Don’t get me wrong, I like College Humor as much as the next girl, which means occasionally, when there’s not too much crude humor, but I usually go for poignant foreign films (ha!). Coffee Town, which was promoted and released almost exclusively online, has a talented cast that includes Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Steve coffee_town_coverLittle (Eastbound and Down), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) and Josh Groban (yep, the guy who sings “You Raise Me Up”). Will, played by Howerton, is a web manager who casually works from a local coffee shop, Coffee Town. Will’s work days include frequent (and funny) conversation breaks with his friends Chad and Gino (Little and Schwartz), ogling Becca, a nurse who stops by Coffee Town daily after the gym, and harassing the disgruntled barista Sam (Groban). Life is good until Will hears rumors that Coffee Town might be turned into a bistro, meaning that he would have to find another coffee shop, farther away and, perhaps, with fewer outlets. To prevent these dark events from coming to pass, Will and his friends decide to stage a break-in in hopes of ruining the neighborhood’s reputation for safety and sabotaging the bistro plan.

To put it frankly I do not recommend this movie. The best jokes are in the preview, and, as Will Ross of Tiny Mix Tapes says, the “lack of passion and risk-taking is what keeps the well-intentioned Coffee Town a decaffeinated bore.” However, I will say in defense of Coffee Town that calling it a bore is a bit of an overstatement, and I was pleasantly impressed by some of the plot developments. Spoiler alert! In the end, Will gets what he wants: Coffee Town stays Coffee Town. However, Will is able to keep his informal “office” in spite of all of his elaborate efforts. While there is some talk of karma, the good that comes to pass ultimately has nothing to do with Will’s manipulative strategizing or the fact that he sees himself as a good guy, deserving of the simple pleasures he feels life owes him. In Howerton’s voice-overs throughout the movie, Will tries to dissect his life in terms of the vague good versus evil cosmic balance that we all so often find ourselves buying into.  But the great part is that this equation proves to be bogus; the good v. evil scale is entirely unable to account for the outcome of the movie or the progression of events.

coffee town castThe lack of clear moral causes and effects is pushed a step further when Will is caught in his illegal efforts to save Coffee Town but saved by a self-sacrificing man with Down’s syndrome who takes the fall. (Quick note: it’s not truly self-sacrificial because the man with Down’s syndrome knows he will be excused by the police, but he still steps in to save his friends when they don’t deserve it.) Will recognizes the grace in this (well, kind of): “I’ll admit: I’m one of those guys who only prays at football games and craps tables. But right then [surrounded by cops after the break-in], I was asking for any help I could get. And then the strangest thing happened. A savior appeared. And he had Down’s syndrome.” Will, Chad and Gino are saved from the law by a man that they make fun of behind his back.

I’m not going to pretend that Coffee Town is some kind of secret reservoir of theological insights, or that it’s even worth watching, but it’s not an insight-less desert of vulgarity either. Ultimately, Will is able to leave a typical day of work at Coffee Town with a bit more gratitude and less of a sense of deserving. The take away is as simple as what Don Williams sings in his song “Stay Young”: all the best things in life are free.