If a film’s title comes from a character who chooses to spend his days painting himself silver, wearing stilts, and taking his performance art to the streets of New York City in an effort to entertain the 9 to 5 troops then the viewer would be forgiven for expecting entry to a quirktastic indie venture loaded with loosely connected vignettes, an unintended sequel of sorts to Zach Braff’s Garden State. And yet, while Lee Kirk’s directorial debut (he also wrote the script) is not entirely successful, it is less Empire State than something sweet and conventional – which I mean mostly as a compliment.
Janice (Jenna Fischer, who co-produced) and Tim (Chris Messina, whose voice has this distinct wearisomeness that truly befits the character) are cut from the same confused, non-communicative cloth, as evidenced by their mutual affection for silent film, and as the The Giant Mechanical Man opens their lives simultaneously implode. Tim’s longtime girlfriend breaks up with him, admitting she never believed in the viability of his performance art while her brother lectures Tim on the necessity of “plowing the fields” (read: stop painting yourself silver and get a job). Janice gets fired from her gig at Permanent Temps (ha!) which leads to her getting evicted from her apartment. She stays with her sister Jill (Malin Akerman, credibly playing a self-involved shrew) who desperately wants to set her aimless sister up with author/motivational speaker Doug (Topher Grace, doing exactly what he’s asked), the Sir Galahad of The Douchebag Round Table.
Rather than buying a zoo to reinvigorate their livelihoods, Janice and Tim both take jobs AT a zoo as an absolute last resort – she in concessions and he in sanitation. There is a clear connection, two people – to paraphrase the characters themselves – whose lives are on pause while they try to find the play button. It is in these quietly yearning scenes that the film is at its best, and this is not because they are anything groundbreaking but because Kirk takes such great care to paint these two not as misunderstood but as so painfully unsure of being in their own skin that their bond is wholly believable. Why, it’s even believable that Janice would go on the date with Doug brokered by her bullish sister, even though it’s clear she doesn’t want to go on the date, because she is so certifiably meek. Eventually she starts, however slowly and in however small a dose, to shred that meekness, but as she does so the screenplay betrays her. And Tim.
For mystifying reasons Kirk forsakes organically following the relationship for the typical third act monkey wrench. And instead of The Giant Mechanical Man itself – which sort of disappears in the middle of the movie as Tim learns who he is and what he wants – working as the film’s symbol, it winds up being an over-convenient plot device in the way that it allows first for a standard (depressing) Reversal and then a gimmick to let Janice pour out her soul. Thus, a movie possessing potential as an antiseptic to over-budgeted Hollywood rom-coms falls victims to the exact same sort of flaws.
Even so, you can’t help but admire its well meaning intention. That has to count for something.