The Film: The Giant Mechanical Man (2012)
The Principles: Written and Directed by Lee Kirk. Acted by Jenna Fischer, Chris Messina, Malin Akerman, Topher Grace, Rich Sommer, Lucy Punch and Bob Odenkirk.
The Premise: Two people confused about their trajectory in life intersect in unlikely circumstances. Janice (Fischer) loses her job with a temp agency and is struggling to make ends meet. Tim (Messina) is The Giant Mechanical Man, busking on the streets in a blue\silver suit, face paint and stilts. When Tim’s girlfriend leaves him for not being more successful, he procures janitorial work at the local zoo which recently hired Janice to sell monkey heads full of grape drink to children. As Tim and Janice slowly become friends due to their reticence and difficulty in speaking their minds, they’ll also find out they have deeper connections than they ever could have expected.
Is it Good? It is good, mostly. It follows the romantic comedy formula a little too closely with the end of Act Two drama meets the Third Act reconciliation, but this is what romances do about 90% of the time and if you’re cool with that, then so am I. A good or great romantic comedy doesn’t need to break the formula to work, it needs chemistry between its lovers and it needs a script that’s deft enough to maybe show us a little bit more of the human condition. A great romance needs to make us feel like we’re a part of something larger and that the pop culture/literature version of “Love” exists and it’s right around the next corner waiting for us. Before Sunrise, Love, Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ira & Abby, Kissing Jessica Stein, Harold and Maude, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall: these movies stay with us because they give us hope that our exact match is out there somewhere and, when we find them, then life will be less scary and enormous. The Giant Mechanical Man isn’t remotely on par with the films I mentioned, but it does do two things very right: the leads have a lovely, charming chemistry and it made me feel optimistic about “Love”, life and the people we surround ourselves with.
I guess some people don’t truck with Jenna Fischer very much and I have to disagree mightily with them. As one of the brave fools that followed The Office until it’s long overdue (and beautiful) finale, I found her character to have had one of the most remarkable arcs I’ve ever seen in a network comedy and she played it beautifully and with nuance. Her character here is similar to Pam in their unhappiness with their work and their wallflower natures, but Fischer adds an unpolished edge to Janice that makes you wonder about her mental stability more than whether she’ll get the boy. Chris Messina is the indie romance go-to for the last few years and I am not tiring of him one bit. His work on Six Feet Under, Ira & Abby, Damages, 28 Hotel Rooms and The Mindy Project shows that he’s charismatic and charming with some depth, but here he shows a range I didn’t expect from him. Tim considers himself an artist and deep thinker, but his words come out slow and methodically, almost as if he’s unintelligent, but Messina puts so much performance into his eyes that we feel what he’s saying even if he can’t articulate it. When Fischer and Messina are together, we instantly want them to connect, because if they connect then maybe we can too and it’s a testament to their chemistry together that they feel perfect for each other even though not much time is spent developing the romance more than the friendship.
The Giant Mechanical Man is a beach read of a film and sometimes that’s just fine. There’s more than a few silly contrivances that exist only to manufacture conflict and there’s a few characters that exist only to create distance between the characters where normally there wouldn’t be any. The third act is incredibly rushed and feels like it’s just picking up steam when the film ends, but there’s some footage during the credits that helped alleviate my disappointment. Basically, the film is flawed in ways that might hobble a different movie, but I think I was just in the right mood for this one and left it thoroughly charmed if nothing else. It’s what I needed on a day where I went searching for a connection and was wondering whether I might have stopped one block too early.
Random Anecdotes: Pinback does the song over the closing credits!! Hate their name, really enjoy their music.
This movie makes Detroit look really beautiful in the winter and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before.
Chris Messina does incredible work as The Giant Mechanical Man as well. He does some locking and some animating that would be impressive even if he weren’t on stilts.
I’m not a fan of Lucy Punch. At all.
Is It Worth A Look: I think so. If you’re in a similar state of mind as I was and just need something to make you feel connected to the human race. It’s not forgettable pablum by any means, it’s just flawed in easy to spot ways.
Cinematic Soulmates: Ira & Abby, Roxanne, Lars and the Real Girl, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Silver Linings Playbook.