All our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage can be found here.
“I don’t need a suitcase. This isn’t a movie,” Pauline (Lucy Punch) tells her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Tim (Chris Messina) on her way out the door in a scene from “The Giant Mechanical Man” after he asks if she’s leaving, where’s her luggage? And before you can wag your finger at the screen, insisting, “Ah, but you are in a movie,” Pauline begins to pack a valise anyway.
Therein lies the rub of Lee Kirk’s directorial debut, a film that is steeped in its movieness, with every speaking role filled by a familiar face and a plot that’s as easy to see coming as its central, titular character walking down the street to his work as a street performer. But for audiences who like their escapism to hit a little bit close to home, “The Giant Mechanical Man” is a warm-hearted if modest diversion.
Both Tim and Janice (Jenna Fischer) are in need of one, floating through life separately with occasional employment and a disconnect from the rat race around them. While the coincidences that keep bringing them together are overdone in Kirk’s initially bifurcated story structure, what is to the writer/director’s great credit is a real lament about modern society that lies underneath the film’s copious quirk, a gentle questioning of the general attitude that a certain societal conformity must be maintained, even if it no longer makes sense.
At her first temp job, Janice is given a long explanation of why she must protect a door at a museum, followed by a longer one at her apartment when she’s asked for her rent because it’s the first of the month. In both cases, both superiors giving her orders throw up their hands without being prompted and wonder aloud why they’re asking her to do these things. Although Janice isn’t outwardly rebellious like Tim, who spends his mornings putting on silver facepaint, he will no doubt pull it out of her once the two meet doing menial work at the local zoo where both take jobs to support their quarterlife crises of purpose. That she doesn’t recognize Tim out of his makeup after so admiring The Giant Mechanical Man for speaking up for the culturally alienated on the local news is really the film’s only complication.
Ironically, the inevitability of the film is at odds with its feel-good message that life should be more spontaneous, but it’s pleasant enough to watch, especially when actors as likeable as Fischer and Messina are front and center. As Janice’s small social circle, Malin Akerman and “Mad Men”‘s Rich Sommer show up to play parts below their paygrade that feel every bit the casual favors they likely were, but Topher Grace’s appearance as a sleazy, long-haired self-help guru who Janice is set up with takes an obvious source of comic relief and infuses it with the right amount of pomposity to make it funny without being grating. Although that might sound like a low threshold to clear for enjoyment, “The Giant Mechanical Man” is ultimately a light comedy about just getting by and in line with its characters, it’s no surprise that it does just that as a film.
“The Giant Mechanical Man” is available now nationally on VOD and will show at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23rd, 24th and 25th before opening at the Village East Cinema in New York on April 27th and the Uptown Birmingham 8 in Detroit on May 4th.