This comedy starts off with a man informing his estranged brother that their father is dead. Now, you can make a comedy out of anything, and certainly there have been farces about a death in the family that were pretty funny. (The original Death at a Funeral comes to mind.) But if you're going to start off with a premise that's emotionally loaded like that you have to be really careful to manage the darkness under the surface or you'll collapse the souffle.
Awful Nice collapses the souffle.
When anyone suffers a genuine loss like that they become emotionally raw, and getting into an argument - even if it's a trivial argument - can quickly turn anyone around them into a wreck. Most of the jokes in Awful Nice come from the two brothers at it's core squabbling over ridiculously petty points, but they do so with a juvenile energy that befits little kids in a car on a long road trip, not grieving men trying to reorient their lives in the wake of a devastating event. There's no sense that these two men are actually feeling the feelings that they would have to be feeling at a time like this, so all of the jokes feel like cheap distractions, papering over the real problems underneath. And that wouldn't be a problem if the movie went for a completely absurd vibe, but the tone of the movie isn't over the top enough to lead the audience to expect these seemingly realistic people to behave like cartoonish goons.
I understand that it's a comedy so they can't spend the whole movie going around talking about their grief, but you can't introduce an elephant into the room and then not talk about it. There's something dishonest about the way that this movie introduces us to these people after a life changing event and then asks us to believe that they would continue to act like they've always acted. Maybe these two guys would still be fighting about a prized basketball card, but unlike the fights in the past, now they'd be fighting about a card that symbolizes more than just a card.
If the script had injected a bit more heart into these characters than it could have been a compelling dramedy about estranged brothers. If the script didn't begin in such an ominous place it could have been a goofy comedy with low stakes. But instead Awful Nice tried to split the difference, starting from a point of emotional darkness and then only moving forward with an impluasible goofiness. For a film with a harsh juxtaposition in it's title you'd think the filmmakers would have put a lot of thought into balancing the two extremes they wanted to navigate, but alas, I don't think that they did.
Winner: The cat