Lost in the Crowd
Main Cast: Jenna Fischer, Chris Messina
Director: Lee Kirk
Jenna Fischer plays the perfect Everywoman. After her stint on The Office cemented that image, she has gone on to put her own stamp on it in several indie movies, one of them being The Giant Mechanical Man.
Fischer plays Janice in The Giant Mechanical Man, a woman in her 30s without much direction, trying to make her way through the world as an adult. Janice has had a hard time figuring out just where she fits, not having much success in the job market, with friends, or lovers. She loses her job at a temp agency as the film opens, leaving her short on funds and reliant on her patronizing younger sister.
We also meet Tim (Chris Messina), a street performance artist whose corporate girlfriend is getting fed up with his giant robot street act and finds him an embarrassment in front of her business colleagues. He wants to let people know that they are not alone in feeling lost in the hustle and bustle of the world and makes his contribution through his silent, silver painted street artistry.
Janice and Tim meet when both are forced to take jobs at the same establishment to make ends meet. From there on we have a fairly typical romance, but between a robot and a downtrodden introvert.
While the movie may tread a familiar path, it does so with the sort of charm and sincerity you don’t see in most mainstream
romantic comedies. It’s more dramedy than comedy, with both Tim and Janice feeling very real in their inability to “fit in” with other people’s expectations. Tim has friends but alienates new acquaintances with his art. Janice lets herself be pushed around by her sister, set up on dates she doesn’t want and put in situations in which she is uncomfortable. They are both painfully unable to be who they think they are supposed to be, and this comes through beautifully as we see them struggle with the outside world and relax with each other, letting down walls and being true to themselves.
Fischer and Messina handle the lead roles so well they may as well have been written for them. Messina does quirky as well as anyone out there, and he brings a sort of groundedness to Tim that other actors may have failed to impart – he may be a giant silver robot on the street, but he’s also a pretty regular person. He never goes over the top with the eccentricity, giving Tim just enough wackiness to be interesting, but not so much that he becomes a caricature.
Fischer does what she does. She’s pretty without being intimidatingly beautiful and she slides easily into the role of a woman who is simply searching for where she belongs in the world – and someone to share it with. She’s the straight man here and some of the peripheral characters (Seth Green in particular as a self-help guru she’s set up with by her sister) get the chance to riff off of her quiet, timid character.
The Giant Mechanical Man doesn’t sound particularly special, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Messina and Fischer have great chemistry, the progression of the characters over the course of the film feels natural and sweet and the big Midwestern city (it was filmed in Detroit) is perfectly cold and impersonal as our characters look for warmth and a place to belong.
Overall, this is a great romantic comedy for people who don’t much like romantic comedies but love good characters and good movie making. Director/writer Lee Kirk hits all the right notes and makes the most of both his cast and setting, allowing The Giant Mechanical Man to be sweet but not cloying and hopeful without being trite. 4 ½ stars out of 5 and a hearty recommendation for indie movie lovers.
photo by Romina Espinosa