THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN – SLIFF Review
I have a lot of respect for street performers. From music to magic and everything in between, street performer add a level of artistic vibrancy to areas otherwise typically bogged down in the dry, monotone corporate atmosphere. Have you ever been having a bad day, been walking along sulking in your grumpiness, then come upon a street performer who actually made you smile, even for a moment? If not, I hope you do, because it works… and, this is where THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN succeeds.
For a feature film debut, writer and director Lee Kirk does play it safe on some level. THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN certainly follows a fairly standard format of the romantic comedy genre. The humor is offbeat, quirky but never heavy-handed. The film may be playing itself safe structurally, but the content is what makes the film enjoyable. How many romantic comedies have we seen that are absurdly unrealistic or saturated in sappiness? It’s refreshing to see one like this come along that tosses those conventions to the wayside.
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN stars hometown girl Jenna Fischer as Janice and Chris Messina as Tim. This is, of course, a story about boy meets girl, but there’s an underlying vein of existentialism that inks this map to our characters’ story ending “happily ever after.” Tim is an artist, at least he believes he is and can be, refusing to give up and supplements his journey as a street performer. Tim paints his face silver, hops onto stilts and throws on his silver suit and bowler hat, transforming into the giant mechanical man passersby see on the streets. Toss some change in his briefcase, and he does a little show mimicking a mechanical robot toy. Chris Messina sells these performances well.
Janice is a kindred spirit. With no true direction in her life, she works for a temp agency to make ends meet. Janice struggles with how everyone around her appears to happy, seems to have it all figured out while she really has no clue what she wants from life. However, its the constant pressure she gets from the world around her that makes her unhappy, not her lack of direction. Her younger sister Jill (Malin Akerman) and her husband are constantly on her case, pressuring her to figure things out, but all Janice really wants is to enjoy her life and find her own way.
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN starts off at a relatively slow pace, but is hoisted up by the blunt, quirky humor that resides just below the threshold we’ve come to find familiar in TV shows like THE OFFICE, from which Fischer cut her chops. Not until Janice loses her temp job and begins looking for new work do things begin to fall into place. Meanwhile, Tim finds himself cut loose by his pretentiously hip girlfriend who deals a devastating blow to his ego, leading him also to find new work to make ends meet. Both parties find work at the zoo.
One thing leads to another, Janice and Tim meet, they fall in love, stuff happens… sadness… and so on. As I mentioned before, THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN follows a pretty standard romantic comedy formula. The difference is in how Lee Kirk fills in the blanks. There is a subtle sweetness to the film, just enough to pep you up rather than loading you so full that you slip into a diabetic coma. After all, isn’t that how life really is… filled with little moments of just the right amount of sweetness to make you remember everything will be alright?
Tim has an outsider-looking-in view of the world. He’s not depressed, nor is he a pessimist; he’s just a guy who sees others for who they really are and refuses to be someone other than exactly who he is, unlike so many he sees around him, always pretending to be whomever others will accept. Chris Messina puts a lot of stock in his eyes, giving his character a depth necessary to sell the performance. Jenna Fischer takes a few steps deeper into the emotional end of the pool and pulls it off swimmingly. Together, Messina and Fischer maintain on on screen chemistry that is honest and entertaining. For lack of better words, the two of them together are truly cute.
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN is not real life, but it takes romance and the struggles inherent into territory not common to the genre. Tim and Janice are surrounded by self-absorbed, often nasty human beings, making them seem like the normal ones struggling to stay afloat in a world bent on keeping them under. Janice’s sister Jill spends most of the film trying way too hard to hook her up with a self-absorbed, nauseatingly fake and annoying self-help author named Doug (Topher Grace). He is primarily here for comic relief, and while Topher Grace succeeds at making us truly hate his character, it often becomes unbearable to watch.
Lee Kirk has crafted a commendable addition to the romantic comedy genre. THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN is a film I would happily watch again, especially since there’s a level of intelligence to the story and what the director appears to be saying about how meeting people and developing relationships in life is often a struggle for the more sensitive, outsider types that don’t fit into a common mold. THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN was shot in Detroit, played at the Tribeca Film Festival (also, being distributed by Tribeca Films) and is accompanied by an appealing soft indie rock soundtrack I look forward to hopefully being able to purchase someday down the road.
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN screens during the 21st Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival on Monday, November 12th, 7:15pm at the Tivoli Theatre.
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