Working Man: Peter Gerety stars as a different sort of invisible man.
At the same time many Americans are clamoring to get back to work, here comes a film about a man who refuses to be ousted from his job. Work gives us purpose; our jobs help to define who we are. What happens when an employee doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit? Such is the plight of the inconspicuous toiler reluctantly made the center of attention in Working Man.
After decades at a routine job for a Rust Belt plastics company, our titular laborer learns that his home away from home is shuttering. But that doesn’t stop him from clocking in. Allery (Peter Gerety) is drawn to the plant, just as a George Romero zombie, back from the dead, might instinctively skedaddle to the shopping mall — it’s a place that played an important role in their life. Neighboring co-workers look on in amazement as Allery makes his daily trudge through their small town, lunchbox in hand, to the manufactory. Even after the power is cut off, Allery refuses to stand lost in the foundry. With nothing to manufacture, he whiles away the days polishing the machine shop.
Deep in denial but pressed for an explanation, Allery tells his wife Iola (Talia Shire), “It’s just something I need to do.” It’s been years since their son committed suicide, and their marriage has yet to recover. There is no anger between the two, just seared silence. Self-sufficient Allery’s lunch consists of 4 rings of braunschweiger palm-pressed between two slices of white, a thermos of coffee, and a powdered donut for dessert. Even though we don’t meet up with him until late in his life, it’s a safe bet that Allery’s routine hasn’t altered in ages — at the very least, since his son died. After nine months working alongside Allery, Walter (Billy Brown) swears he’s never heard him speak. But past events in Walter’s life help him feel sympathy and respect for his shell-shocked co-worker. Rather than allow the locals to judge him, Walter turns Allery into the factory idol. With several outstanding orders to fulfill, Walter — banking on the plant reopening after news trucks in the parking lot turn them into social media sensations — encourages his co-workers to return to their jobs, if only on a temporary basis. He also credits the decision to an unwitting Allery.
Iola’s transition from shock and disbelief to cheerleading wife is subtlety personified. Shire is still playing Adrian Balboa, only now she’s married to a different kind of fighter. Character actor Peter Gerety has 51 television shows and 45 features to his credit. Several of his movies have a permanent spot in my DVD cellar (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Changeling, Paul Blart: Mall Cop). The face seemed familiar, but without the help of IMDB, I was at a loss to name one. He’s a chameleonic descendant of the royal families of Charles Durning or Kenneth McMillan, a character actor whose general imperceptibility made him a natural to play Allery. It’s the role of a lifetime.
Films about passive heroes have a soft spot in my heart; how difficult must it be to make a non-entity compelling? Not a patch on The Last Emperor, Vera Drake, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, first-time director Robert Jury’s Working Man finds suspense amidst the humdrum, and love among the rubble of a marriage put on hold. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
The Lovebirds — “Documentaries are TV shows that no one watches,” Leilani (Issa Rae) fires back at her husband Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani), a documentarian who fancies himself a “social activist.” No sooner does the couple decide to cancel their four-year relationship than they’re witnesses to murder. That leaves the filmmakers with two mysteries to solve: whodunit, and how to reconcile the busted romance? The script calls for Leilani and Jibran to bicker incessantly, leaving director Max Showalter incapable of generating the illogical universe needed to make his unreasonable characters ring true. Prevailing pop-culture references supplant conversation — we interrupt our frantic dinner patter for a mood-shattering riff on the depth of metal milkshake cups. The poise, potency, and believableness that Issa Rae brought to The Photograph are nowhere in sight. Leilani’s a non-stop panic attack, while Nanjiani’s Jibran desperately whines over her dialogue. I wanted to enjoy my time spent with these characters, but Showalter never gave me the chance. 2020. —S.M. ★
Survive the Night — It’s Of Mice and Men meets Desperate Hours when a pair of thickheaded criminals on the lam take refuge in the home of negligent sawbones Rich (Chad Michael Murray) and his family. The main draw is Bruce Willis in a supporting role as Rich’s competitive dad. It’s not the worst of Willis (I missed Trauma Center, his previous pairing with director Matt Eskandari), but his performance couldn’t be any less effective were he computer generated. How dumb does it get? “We’re not here to hurt anyone,” Mathias (Jon Olson) informs his hostages just moments after Jamie (Shea Buckner), his trigger-happy brother, takes out a member of the family. And with a yawning hole in his leg, Mathias elects to wait until sunrise to search the grounds for the doc to finish stitching him up. Never mind the night; I’ll lay you eight to five that you won’t survive 89 minutes. 2020. —S.M. ●
Up from the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — Did you know that opera made its American debut in New Orleans (not New York), and that Cuba once referred to New Orleans as its long-lost sister city? The all-encompassing topic of the origins and history of New Orleans jazz demands an epic seven-part documentary series along the lines of The Blues. A mere 104 minutes can’t possibly do it justice, but damn if director Michael Murphy and executive producer/host Terence Blanchard don’t try. (Apart from being a distinguished jazz trumpeter, Blanchard is a prolific composer for such films as Bamboozled, Original Sin, The Comedian, etc.) For those unfamiliar with Jellyroll Morton, Allen Toussaint, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Prima, Irma Thomas, and Louis “Punk Rock” Armstrong, I suggest you have pen and paper in hand to jot down the names of the performers covered for further research. And if you’re like me (and Blanchard), the first thing you’ll do when it’s over is track down a copy of Lennon & McCartney’s “Blackbird.” 2019. —S.M. ★★★
Movie theatre eats at home
With their screens boarded up for the duration, Reading Cinemas has found a way to bring the moviegoing experience to your home. No, not the rental of two prattling children and a team of obtuse husband-and-wife texters; rather, a concession stand array of tasty treats delivered directly to your door. The menu includes classic movie favorites — freshly-popped popcorn available by the tub or three-foot family-bag, hot dogs, pretzels, and an assortment of Nestle candies. For those with more demanding taste buds, try their handmade turkey club sandwich on toasted bread, fresh-baked cookies (choice of snickerdoodle, peanut butter or chocolate chunk) and chicken tenders (playing exclusively at Grossmont). Available to order for curbside pickup or on the Uber Eats App.