10/15/2007

Waydowntown

Director: Gary Burns

Jerry Seinfeld once told a joke—and I’m paraphrasing—that basically at work you’re surrounded by people who all filled out the exact same application with little regard to actual similarities in personality. Within the first few minutes of this multiple award winning darkly comic satire Waydowntown, our narrating main character Tom (Fabrizio Filippo) echoes Seinfeld’s sentiment. At his first real job after graduation, Tom laments the fact that there should be an entire class at university regarding how one can work in close proximity to not only coworkers that you having nothing in common with but whom you may even despise. His nearest coworker whom Tom privately refers to as “Sadly, I’m Bradley,” (Don McKellen) has been at his job for far too long and as we are introduced to him, realize that he’s long overdue for a change of scenery. However, being dissatisfied and ready to snap at work has been done before but in director Gary Burns’ hands, we witness something far more extreme. Four of the employees have bet an entire month’s salary ($10,000) over who can stay inside the longest without leaving as the downtown center where they work is all interconnected against Calgary’s harsh winters so they can get to their apartments, shopping, food courts and work without leaving the large enclosed building. As the film opens it’s day 24 of the bet and the four participants are all at various stages of losing it with Tom resorting to smoking pot in his parked car he can’t drive away in and playing escalating pranks on others, Sandra (Marya Delver) is forced to spend her lunch hour tailing her kleptomaniac employer while being panicked about the recycled air she’s been inhaling for a month, and the engaged office man-whore Curt (Gordon Currie) tries to seduce a vulnerable otherwise engaged employee, while Randy (Tobias Godson) schemes to get outside by enlisting the help of a security guard to complete a work related mission. Taking place over a lunch hour that gets trippier (thanks to the hallucinations of Tom that don’t ever quite pay off) and even more disturbing as Bradley begins stapling clich├ęd corporate affirmations to his chest, the film is a wonderful concept that results in an ultimately uneven payoff. Shot on digital film entirely inside the chosen location of the fluorescently lit claustrophobic downtown Calgary that reminded me of a gigantic snow globe, the film makes some interesting and valid points about homogenized work environments and employs a nice allegory with Tom’s ant farm that serves as symbolism for workers who feel stuck inside glass and concrete bland economic “prisons.” Co-written by director Burns along with James Martin, this acclaimed Canadian film manages to suck viewers so convincingly into the enclosed world of the setting that after its ninety minute running time, viewers will be craving the outdoors as well.