The lyrics of R.E.M’s lesser-known hit ‘7 Chinese Brothers,’ for which the film is named, do little to make sense of this elusive comedy, or at least make sense of the title. But that’s kind of the point.

Jason Schwartzman is Larry, who after being fired from a lousy job, picks up another gig at a car garage run by the beautiful Lupe (Eleanore Pienta) for whom he quickly develops feelings. In his spare time, Larry hangs out with his dog (Schwartzman’s real-life canine, Arrow), his ageing grandmother and last surviving relative (Olympia Dukakis) and her nurse/his best friend, Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe).

At times a comically sad figure whose forlornness and apathy are his most endearing features, it is Schwartzman who brings on most of the laughs and exactly the kind of comedy we would expect from a Wes Anderson regular. The sort of tragi-comic anti-hero role that could have been filled by Jason Segel or any number of actors without the quirky, desperate charm nailed by Schwartzman, 7 Chinese Brothers is enjoyable if only for watching him careen from one increasingly pitiful obstacle to another.

Seeing Larry awkwardly entangle himself with a carful of strangers; or standing outside an ATM, withdrawing money to appease a hostile co-worker who is stealing from the boss he has a crush on; or playing with his dog after it almost gets kidnapped are only a few of the times where the filmmakers manage to find piercingly comic gems in some of Larry’s most desperate or tragic moments.

A fine comedy of exasperation, while not all of the scenes manage to hit the right notes, they are offset by the many times the tragic humorist deep inside can laugh and be glad that it’s not happening to you. Backed by a small yet solid supporting cast, Schwartzman delivers a bleak, bitterly funny comedy.

7 Chinese Brothers screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF)

On The Big Smoke