Judge Paul Pritchard can't help but wonder who would win in a fight: The Giant Mechanical Man or Iron Man.
"I never believed in you…I just thought you were charming."
While a less-assured hand may have led to The Giant Mechanical Man being a tiresome indie smug-fest, debutant writer-director Lee Kirk turns in a handsome, warm, and genuinely engaging story of two people finding their place in the world.
Tim (Chris Messina, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) is a street performer. Every morning Tim leaves his apartment early to stand on street corners, where he has become known as "the giant mechanical man," due to his costume and makeup. Despite recent media attention, Tim's career choice causes friction with his girlfriend who leaves him when she can see no future with him. Taking a moment to reflect, Tim decides to join the rat race that he has so long resisted, taking a job at the local zoo.
Meanwhile, Janice (Jenna Fischer (The Office) has recently been evicted from her apartment following the loss of her job at a temp agency. Moving in with her sister Jill (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) only makes matters worse, as Janice finds herself constantly set up on dates with successful, self-obsessed author Doug (Topher Grace, Spider-Man 3). Desperate to escape, Janice also finds employment at the local zoo, where she strikes up a friendship with Tim. As Tim and Janice begin to spend more time together, they begin to find the companionship they have both been looking for.
Next to Kirk's writing, the principal reason for The Giant Mechanical Man working so well is its cast. Jenna Fischer excels in the role of Janice, a thirty-something who doesn't have all the answers, and isn't particularly looking for them either. The onscreen chemistry she shares with Chris Messina really draws the viewer in, as their quirky romance explores the lives of those who feel out of place in the modern world.
Now, one could argue that Kirk's film is a little too simplistic in its depictions of its protagonists, as it never questions whether the lack of drive exhibited by Janice and Tim is detrimental in any way, while the more career-motivated Jill (Malin Akerman) and Brian (Rich Sommer) are painted in a rather vulgar manner. Such criticisms—while valid to a point—fail to fully grasp Kirk's intentions. It is a fact that many people at some point in their lives simply feel disconnected from society, and find themselves questioning why they must conform to a nine-to-five existence. Kirk is clearly focusing on such people, and his screenplay is clever enough never to suggest that either Janice or Tim are simply suffering from an extended bout of laziness, but rather they have yet to find that special something that gives them a feeling of purpose. For Tim, his work as a street performer—which he believes speaks to the isolation of others—provides him with the sense of self worth that his job at the local zoo could never hope to do, while Janice finds herself stifled by her overbearing sister and a series of dead end jobs.
Kirk seemingly acknowledges the cheesier elements of his story (which are admittedly few), when one of his characters apologizes before stating, "it only takes one person to make you feel important." Yet the truth of such a declaration is hard to refute, and the way Janice and Tim bring out the best in each other, while simultaneously offering validation to both, means that the lack of any great incident in the film's narrative doesn't become an issue, as the gentle romance proves so endearing. The introduction of a love rival, in the form of a suitably slimy Topher Grace does push The Giant Mechanical Man into more formulaic, almost mainstream territory. Thankfully, though, this is the rare exception of Kirk conforming to the norm, and his film retains a unique quirkiness that will appeal audiences tired of over glamorized Hollywood fare.
One cannot talk about The Giant Mechanical Man without discussing the contribution of cinematographer Doug Emmett. His establishing shots of Chicago, along with the glimpses of Tim's studio that open the film provide the perfect setup for the story that is to follow. Emmett's visuals continue to impress as the film develops, and they are captured perfectly by this standard def 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which packs in a remarkable amount of detail. Colors are vibrant, with strong black levels complementing the sharp picture. The viewer has the option of a Dolby 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo mix, both of which are excellent, if uncomplicated. The sole bonus feature is an interview with Jenna Fischer (also a producer on the film) and her husband Lee Kirk.
The Giant Mechanical Man successfully retains its indie sensibilities while offering a story that holds almost universal appeal. Though the film's pacing is a little on the slow side, the depth of its characters ensures viewers will remain invested in their outcome.
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