Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Superior Employee Of The Month: Mitch Rouse Makes A Refreshingly Dark Satire!

The Good: Funny, Dark, Well-written, Develops very well
The Bad: Moments of performance
The Basics: Employee Of The Month is a strong anti-capitalist satire that takes an abrupt, but well-constructed, turn in the last fifteen minutes into an entirely different type film.

For the last few years, pretty much since the moment we met, my wife has wanted me to watch the film Employee Of The Month. Initially, this made me queasy, as I thought it meant she liked films like the movie by that name with Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson (reviewed here!). Fortunately for me, she meant the dark satire Employee Of The Month with Matt Dillon, Christina Applegate, and Dave Foley. Also fortunately for the both of us, after years of waiting, Employee Of The Month lived up to her memories and my expectations.

Unfortunately, Employee Of The Month is a movie one cannot fully discuss or appreciate without spoiling the end. I, however, refuse to do that. As a result, I shall say that Employee Of The Month takes an abrupt left turn in the final fifteen minutes, turning from a dark, character-driven story of a man whose luck takes a turn for the absolute worst, into a Bound-like crime/heist film that bears almost no resemblance to the socially-relevant anti-capitalist film that preceded it. Without spoiling the end, one of the only real problems with Employee Of The Month (that can be discussed without ruining it) is that much of the film is telegraphed by the acting and the plot points. To be honest, I did not call the end (at all), but when the abrupt bank robbery occurs, the moment David’s body is taken by the robbers, the rest of the film did seem surprisingly formulaic.

It is not at all enough to make Employee Of The Month not worth watching. In fact, this is one of the best, underrated, films I have seen in quite a while.

David Walsh is an unhappy employee at North & Wells Bank, where he has worked for two years, struggling to get ahead. Two days before his benefits are supposed to kick in, he is fired by the head of the branch. His screw-up friend, Jack, who was responsible for the burns that David bears on half his body to this day, crashes his engagement party and makes his dislike of his fiancĂ©, Sara, quite clear. But, the night he is fired, Sara’s parents come to town and Sara dumps David at the restaurant they have dinner at, using David’s affair with Wendy (who also works at the bank) as her primary reason for leaving him.

So, David gets a gun, spends the night hanging out with Jack, and prepares for the next day when he intends to go to work and kill his co-workers at North & Wells.

Employee Of The Month seems, for almost the entire movie, like a dark character study of a man who is pushed to the edge by a capitalistic enterprise that illustrates no real regard for the human cost of its own self-perpetuation. The forces at the bank that are most heinous to Dave, Bill (the manager) and his son-in-law, Kyle, are monolithically evil. Bill is racist, angry, and domineering and Kyle is an adulterous, slimy young man who only seems to have risen as high as he has because he is the manager’s son-in-law. Writers Jay Leggett and Mitch Rouse (who also directed the film), have real issues with authority figures and their hypocrisy, as Sara’s father, who is a priest, menaces Dave following their dinner together (with an especially personal threat of wishing he could set the man, who has visible burned skin, on fire!). Employee Of The Month is dark, but cuts deepest at the forces of power and control in the world.

In fact, part of what makes Employee Of The Month such an instantly, viscerally pleasurable movie is how it pokes at the institutions of power and control, especially capitalism, and explores how rebellion is inevitable. In fact, the presiding theme in Employee Of The Month is “they had it coming.” This is, in part, why the film seems so odd in the abrupt left turn that it takes near its (almost) end. But, once the reversal, that begins with Dave walking out of knocking out his boss and into the bank lobby where there is a robbery in process, occurs, Rouse and Leggett set the film up for all of the reversals that follow. In other words, Employee Of The Month is shockingly, delightfully, unpredictable . . . until the moment it mortgages its linear narrative that is building up to the “will he or won’t he” of the alluded-to killing spree at the bank for a caper film that is almost formulaic in its reversals of fortune.

That does not make it any less pleasant, though.

Employee Of The Month stars Matt Dillon in another one of his heavy roles, where he plays what appears to be a stone-cold killer with a very human heart and motivation. More than any other role I have seen Dillon in, his performance as Dave seems chameleonic; for too many of the beats, he seems to be playing Jim Carrey as Dave. Again, it is not bad enough to make the film not worth watching, but there were moments where he telegraphs his character’s next move with his eyes and plays the character in a way that seems far more like Jim Carrey instead of Dave.

Steve Zahn is likable, dark, and articulate as Jack and this is another memorable sidekick role for the actor. Christina Applegate is decent as Sara and it is always good to see Paul Dooley and Dave Foley on film. Despite its abrupt turns into a very different style of movie, Employee Of The Month remains compelling, engaging and, ultimately, worth watching on all fronts.

For other, similar, satires, check out:
God Bless America
Office Space
Matchstick Men


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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