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New romantic comedy, ’The Baxter,’ is a love letter to Brooklyn

for The Brooklyn Paper

Actor Michael Showalter says Brooklyn was the perfect place to set his new film, "The Baxter," since both his main character and the borough are frequently overshadowed by flashier rivals.

Comparing Manhattan to a conventional leading man, the New Jersey native said Brooklyn was a more offbeat, less-obvious location to set the story of a nice guy whose girlfriends are forever dumping him for better-looking or more exciting men.

"I live in Brooklyn and love Brooklyn," the writer, director and star of "The Baxter" told GO Brooklyn Tuesday. "It’s just such a great city. You can stay in Brooklyn for months and never leave and not ever need to go to Manhattan."

The "Wet Hot American Summer" star, 35, who lives in Boerum Hill, said he lived in Manhattan for years and enjoyed the experience, but decided to move after realizing how nice it is to "cross the bridge" and leave the city behind at night.

"And, as we all have seen, Brooklyn is emerging again as this amazing alternative to Manhattan with its own culture and its own architecture and its own history and its own everything," Showalter said. "This movie is kind of a celebration of that. It’s also the perfect place to set a romantic comedy."

In the film, which was shot over the course of 20 days in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene and Boerum Hill for less than $1.5 million, Showalter plays Elliot Sherman, a straight-laced, kind-hearted accountant who falls in love with beautiful but shallow Caroline Swann (played by "Spider-Man" actress Elizabeth Banks). Weeks before the couple is set to walk down the aisle, Caroline’s hunky ex-boyfriend (played by "Six Feet Under" actor Justin Theroux), makes a last-ditch effort to win her back. Although losing the girl would keep within the pattern of his life, there is hope for Elliot: he has an admirer in the cute and quirky office temp, Cecil (played by "Dawson’s Creek" babe Michelle Williams).

Inspired by legendary filmmakers like Frank Capra, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, Showalter said he wrote "The Baxter" because he wanted to offer a new twist on the romantic-comedy formula - instead following the guy in the love triangle who doesn’t get the girl - while retaining the rapid-fire speech patterns and tidy story-telling techniques of classics like "His Girl Friday," "The Apartment" and "Bringing Up Baby."

"There is something so satisfying about seeing a movie that is so well-made," observed the Brown University grad. "As a film enthusiast and having read a lot of books about [these movies], I have a fascination with the well-made Hollywood screenplay and I set out to write a well-made Hollywood screenplay. That was really what I was going for."

Given the fact that, sadly, so many people have played "The Baxter," aka "Mr. Wrong," in real life, it makes sense that audiences would relate to the people who get broken up with in movies, yet this is not portrayed on-screen as often. Asked why that is so, Showalter speculated it is because filmmakers try to get moviegoers to dislike the dumpees, freeing them up to root for the often too-good-to-be-true heroes.

"I think it’s because people don’t like that guy, and that’s why we have him in the role of the Baxter," he noted. "I think we like him where he is. Because Tom Hanks can’t play that role and John Cusack can’t play that role. I think this is a fun idea, a fun take on that."

Although Showalter said he is excited about making a movie that appeals to a mainstream audience, he admitted he is a tad concerned about alienating fans who love the alternative humor of "Wet Hot American Summer" and his cable TV shows, "Stella" and "The State."

"I am a little bit worried about that, but not that worried," he confessed. "In fact, I’ve read [messages from] a couple of people who have written online, that that’s what happened. They said, ’It wasn’t as funny as "Wet Hot" or it wasn’t as weird as "Wet Hot."’ I’m not afraid to admit I’m trying to appeal to a wider audience and for every ’Wet Hot’ fan who is going to be alienated, hopefully, there will be more than that who could get it and say: ’Wow! That was nice; A little quirky and off-beat.’ Enough to make them feel that they’re not watching ’Must Love Dogs,’ but still tempered and tamed enough to make them feel they weren’t left out."

While "The Baxter," which features hilarious appearances by "Wet Hot" and "Stella" collaborators David Wain and Michael Ian Black, is set to open in New York on Aug. 26, it will expand throughout the country over the next few weeks.

"It’s going to play at your small cinema in every city on one screen and, hopefully, people will be in the mood to see it," Showalter said. "I’m hoping it’s a cold September. I hope people will say, ’That’s the kind of movie I’d like to see on a cold September night!’"

Of course Showalter would love to see his movie open near his home.

"I’m hoping," he said. "I would be so excited if they showed it at BAM."

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