February 25, 2022 8:15 AM EST

The 1990s and early 2000s were a golden era of odd but ambitious little American indies like Burr Steers’s Igby Goes Down and George Huang’s Swimming With Sharks. They may not have been perfect, but at least they had chutzpah on their side. Fewer of those movies find their way into the mainstream today, but Brian Petsos’ wonky comedy Big Gold Brick shows a similarly idiosyncratic, go-for-broke spirit. Its low-key eccentricity—driven by an affably capricious performance from Andy Garcia—is its greatest pleasure.

Aspiring writer Samuel (Emory Cohen) has already found great success at being a loser. He’s about to be tossed out of his apartment, and he’s had it with life. After stumbling out onto a dark road, he’s hit by a car. Behind the wheel is middle-aged gent Floyd (Garcia), distracted because he’s shoveling frozen custard into his mouth while driving. Floyd rushes Samuel to the hospital, and as the young man recovers from his injuries—which appear to have affected his brain, or at least his sense of reality—Floyd wonders if this wanna-be author might be of use to him. He signs Samuel up to write his biography, offering a stipend of $500 a week and ensconcing him in his flashy suburban home, replete with a maladjusted teenage son (Leonidas Castrounis), a kind but emotionally fragile daughter (Lucy Hale), and a libidinous second wife (Megan Fox).

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Floyd, who favors trim blazers spruced up with devil-may-care pocket squares, is a classy guy with money—or is he? Samuel doesn’t have the best grip on things, but he begins to sense that something’s amiss, and his encounter with a villainous zillionaire (Oscar Isaac, intentionally hamming it up) proves him right.

Big Gold Brick may be a bit too enamored with its own quirkiness, but everything Garcia does, no matter how outlandish, feels perfectly natural. Arriving at the hospital with flowers for Samuel, he dumps the cotton swabs out of a glass jar without even looking, missing nary a beat—he needs a vase; who cares about dumb old swabs? His comic timing is as suave as Floyd’s ascots, as understated as his darkly paneled office. Sometimes it’s the small showcase that serves actors best.

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