Song of Back and Neck, the feature debut for Paul Lieberstein, tackles both romance and pain.
Fred Trolleycar (Paul Lieberstein) has somehow managed to be cursed with the worst combination of back and neck pain of all time. It’s what Dr. Street (Paul Feig) describes as “the trifecta of back and neck pain.” It’s so bad that the paralegal is able to get ready for work by crawling on the floor. Fred is a 25-year veteran at his father’s law firm and he’s only added in on meetings just to make the team of Atkins Phips (Clark Duke) and senior partner Jared Foxen (Sam Anderson) look big. Fred is not a fan of Phips, who is forcing out Fred’s dad, David Trolleycar (Robert Pine).
It’s only when Regan Stearns (Rosemarie DeWitt) comes into the office in search of a divorce attorney in which the two connect. At Regan’s suggestion, Fred visits an acupuncturist, Dr. Kuhang (Raymond Ma). It’s only then and there in which Fred learns that his back is musical. It’s a first for Dr. Kuhang in that none of his patients have ever been so…musical. It’s normal for needles to vibrate at this reactive points but to do so in the musical way that Fred’s back does so is incredibly absurd. This is how absurd: the acupuncturist brings in his own son to play the cello at Fred’s appointments!
In connecting with Regan, Fred breaks the cardinal rule of anyone working at a law firm: never date a client. The two hang out more and more until it becomes apparent that her hoarder of a husband, Stone (Brian d’Arcy James), isn’t quite out of the picture. This puts Fred’s job on the line and never more so after his father heads into retirement after 50 years.
Lieberstein’s script is based in part on his own life. His back pain turned out to be psychological rather than physical. The narrative of the film is grounded in the back pain. The romantic comedy aspect helps Fred get to where he needs to be. Fred Trolleycar may be as soft-spoken as Toby Flenderson but Lieberstein tackles these characters in different ways. Fred’s a lonely person who deals with a lot of pain. It’s not until Regan enters his life in which things begin to change if only temporarily.
Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig only has a few minutes of screen time but he sure makes the best of it! Feig is able to play off of Lieberstein’s pain with responses that come off in a witty way. Feig’s Dr. Street is the top orthopedist in the state and is unable to fix Fred’s problems.
Nothing comes easy for Fred Trolleycar but Song of Back and Neck provides some good fun at the expense of Fred’s pain. Lieberstein’s work on The Office has proven to be invaluable as he seeks out a career at the feature level.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Paul Lieberstein
CAST: Paul Lieberstein, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Pine, Brian d’Arcy James, Clark Duke, Paul Feig, and Sam Anderson
An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Song of Back and Neck premiered in the US Narrative Competition.