Movies that tap into the petty grievances and mind games of office culture occupy their own dingy cubicle; they’re oddballs in a medium associated with escapism. Shot in jittery, supersaturated digital video, Gary Burns’s waydowntown infuses the nine-to-five ritual with a palliative pharmaceutical rush, channeling the endemic coffee-addled buzz and narcotized haze into a hallucinogenic waking life.
The film transpires over day 24 of a contest between Calgary coworkers to see who can stay indoors the longest within the city’s massive downtown walkway system. The competitors—whose actual occupations remain a mystery—are reaching their breaking points. Twentysomething Tom (Fabrizio Filippo), a snide trainee with a superhero fixation, keeps spotting a caped crusader out of the corner of his eye. (Surreal, spooky grace notes worthy of Chris Ware abound in waydowntown.) Go-getter Sandra (Marya Delver), light-headed from the recirculated air, obsessively clutches a tear-out perfume sampler to her nose. Tom’s cubicle-mate, lifer schlub Bradley (Don McKellar), is left out of the bet but seems to be contemplating a final wager with himself.
Burns renders Calgary’s glass-enclosed mall complex as a giant vacuum: vast, anonymous, and stifling. A dark edge of claustrophobic crisis marks even casual encounters—Tom’s ambivalent flirtation with a vampy mallrat (Tammy Isbell) is punctuated by her abrupt retreat into a soundproof booth for a cleansing holler. With wit and empathy to spare, waydowntown acknowledges the silent screams of workaday inertia but stops short of indulging its characters’ striving solipsism. Nothing here is the end of the world, just the close of another squandered day.
Apocalypse is indeed now in Hey, Happy!—Noam Gonick fondly renders his native Winnipeg as a barren industrial dump, where outdoor bazaars sparsely stocked with gay porn pass for commercial hubs and an impending flood of biblical proportions threatens to obliterate the town. Taciturn, Keanu-like DJ Sabu (Jeremie Yuen), who’s planning an eve-of-destruction rave at the aptly named Garbage Hill, needs to act fast to complete his goal of shtupping 2000 guys before blackout. He sets his eye on dorky Happy (Craig Aftanas), an amateur UFO scientist, but the swoony couple is thwarted by screeching queen bitch Spanky (Clayton Godson). Backed up by his loyal coven of zaftig hairdressers, this short-shorted maenad kidnaps hapless Happy for his own amusement (entailing an ad hoc wedding ceremony eerily reminiscent of the Braveheart finale). Gonick’s visceral impulses have drawn comparisons with John Waters, but the starry-eyed collision of gross-out gags and candy-sweet sentiment owes as much of a debt to the Farrellys as Bruce LaBruce. Hey, Happy! is many things—stoner midnight flick, sci-fi deconstruction, gay fantasia—but above all it’s a love story as sanguine as its title.
The week’s guilty pleasure is The Count of Monte Cristo, a gorgeously photographed, sumptuously designed adaptation of the Dumas swashbuckler boasting the most ludicrous dialogue since director Kevin Reynolds’s Waterworld. Guy Pearce’s ruthless nobleman sets up wide-eyed commoner Jim Caviezel on treason charges and steals his woman, while Caviezel, cast away in a hellish prison, receives a crash course in fencing, literature, and economics from ancient cell-neighbor Richard Harris. (But where did all those books come from? And how does Jim maintain his muscle tone and lovely teeth?) Caviezel busts loose to seek his revenge, and once Luis Guzman shows up as the self-invented Count’s aide-de-camp, the movie goes wildly contemporary and never winks an eye.
“waydowntown Director Gary Burns Braves the Great Indoors” by Don McKellar
“Hey, Happy! Director Noam Gonick Foresees Apocalypse, Rewrites Bible” by Guy Maddin