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Overall Rating
3.61

Awesome: 25%
Worth A Look32.14%
Just Average: 21.43%
Pretty Crappy: 21.43%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 4 user ratings


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waydowntown
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by Robert Flaxman

"Sharp Canadian social commentary."
5 stars

1999's Office Space was a comedy about corporate culture so popular that demand caused Swingline to produce a stapler that, like a key stapler in the film, was red (a color they did not previously produce). In a perfect world, 2000's waydowntown would have a similar following. While perhaps not as funny as Office Space, waydowntown is sharper, more clever, and, despite its frequent surrealism, feels more true to life.

The film tells the story of four coworkers - Tom, Sandra, Randy, and Curt - who pool their monthly salaries into a bet on who can go the longest without going outside. Their apartments, offices, and various malls are all in one downtown area in which all the buildings are connected by a series of tunnels and skyways - meaning that, in theory, one could probably go for years without ever having to go outside... assuming one could stand it.

Director and co-writer Gary Burns shows us from the start that, in fact, one cannot really stand it. He drops us into the action on Day 24, as we see the various parties going quietly - or not so quietly - nuts. Tom messes with Sandra by telling her how the indoor air is constantly recycled, and Sandra begins to flip out even more. Tom seems to be experiencing various hallucinations, while he and the oversexed Curt attempt to find sexual release. Randy mostly sits around people-watching.

The premise is smart, but Burns gives it an added kick with his directorial style. A lot of close-up shots, camera movements and jarring cuts give an added layer of realism to the idea that the competitors are having trouble. Tom, the main character, claims to be experiencing headaches, and much of the film seems to be shot from his perspective due to Burns' style. In a lesser film, it might be off-putting, but here it actually helps draw more of a connection to the material.

It's hard to root for any of the characters, as none is really all that likable, and yet it's also hard to root against any of them (except for Curt, who's more than a bit of a creep). We understand that the bet is taking its toll on these people, and get the sense from Tom's voice-overs that he is not - and by extension the others are not - normally like this, even if we're taking his word for it. It's a method of characterization reminiscent of something like "Seinfeld" - lead characters who may be borderline unlikable are made into characters we're willing to follow because it's enjoyable watching them interact with people and situations that are even crazier than they are.

Burns doesn't just seem out to make a comedy, though. The film stands as a fairly biting critique of the corporate system, with the bet as something of a metaphor. You take a mediocre job where you're indoors all day, staying in one place a lot of the time, and you do this for an extended period of time. And why do you do it? Money. Financial security. It's unclear whether Burns is more skewering the system or the people who willingly inject themselves into it, but he pretty much hits the mark, and even delivers secondary characters that point up the message. Tom's office-mate Bradley appears to be the world's most depressed person after 20 years at the company, and the firm's retiring founder is a kleptomaniac who has to be watched by employees during the lunch hour to make sure he doesn't take things from the mall.

Not everything in waydowntown works, though even the things that fall a bit short have some merit. Curt's attempted dalliance with another coworker, while funny, adds little to the thesis and doesn't even do much for the plot as a whole. On the other hand, it gives us the film's funniest scene, so it can be forgiven. The plot featuring Bradley's plans to jump out the window is a bit one-note, though it too is both funny and cleverly-executed. Burns gets himself out of a lot of scrapes in the film by using sheer wit to overcome problematic sections and by pulling out the best jokes at the right moments - if nothing else, waydowntown is exquisitely timed.

Perhaps Burns' most clever and subtle device is the clothes-changing that some of the characters - noticeably, Tom and Sandra - do during the film. The implication, I think, is that for them this, while labeled Day 24, could just be any other day of the bet, and for that matter could possibly be any other day of their working lives. For as crazy as it seems, for all that happens, this lunch hour is not so different from any lunch hour previous. Again Burns takes a shot at the monotony of office life - when Tom talks about a childhood fantasy that a supervillain would uproot the downtown section and cause it to hover above the city, one gets the sense that he's almost wishing for this to happen, if only to have something happen.

The film's casual surrealism and intelligent humor combine to make the perfect antidote to the dreariness of modern working life that it portrays. Savage, smart, kinetic and funny, waydowntown is one of the best films about the working world in years.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5718&reviewer=385
originally posted: 11/28/04 12:30:41
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User Comments

8/21/03 NoMargin Gary Burns work continues to evolve with his latest film. He is becoming a dynamic voice. 4 stars
12/10/02 Pierce Lanson Engaging, different, surprising, unpredictable, excellent!!!! 5 stars
10/15/02 Goestridr No it's not very deep, but it is as deep as the corporate structure it portray's. 4 stars
3/27/02 Bruno Funny, Interesting, Very Amusing 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Jan-2002 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-May-2002


Directed by
  Gary Burns

Written by
  Gary Burns
  James Martin

Cast
  Fab Filippo
  Gordon Currie
  Marya Delver
  Tobias Godson
  Don McKellar
  Nick Cleary



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