Haiku Tunnel (2001) ***
Directed and written by Josh and Jacob Kornbluth. Photography, Don Matthew Smith. Editing, Robin Lee. Production design, Chris Farmer. Music, Marco d'Ambrosio. Cast: Josh Kornbluth, Warren Keith, Helen Shumaker, Amy Resnick, et al. A Sony Pictures Classic release. 90 minutes. Rated R (inexplicably).
Surprise, surprise! This work came and went fast, had little exposure and several negative reviews. I dreaded having to watch it. But it turned out that in the eyes and ears of this critic who is fed up beyond description with cookie-cutter, big budget atrocities, consumer movies meant for naive or low I.Q. spectators, this small work was most watchable.
It is an expansion of a longish one-man show, a stand-up-comic monologue by Josh Kornbluth who is named here Josh Kornbluth. The piece, set in San Francisco, was largely autobiographical. Josh is a near-bald, overweight single who seems to have had just one affair with a woman (cleverly worked in but not shown) in his life. He finds relative freedom by working as a temp and resisting the lure of becoming a perm, i.e. holding a regular, permanent job. His specialty is no specialty -- except that he gets to work in legal offices-- and his heart is in becoming a writer.
In the transition from stage to screen the film has opened up nicely by adding other humans, mostly colleagues, bosses and members in law offices.
Josh is not a stereotype. At times he is nuts. At times he is "normal." At all times he tells us his thoughts, feeling, phobias and dreams. The full package is one of exaggerations but anchored in reality. There are inventions, fantasies, surreal passages, daydreams, farcical moments. But no tugging at the audience's heartstrings, no sentimentalities, no manipulations of the spectators.
Among several subtitles to this movie (whose main title may puzzle but has it own logic within the madness) one could read like an homage to a Charlie Chaplin classic: Modern Office Times. Not that this is the definite or ultimate in the well-stocked office movie. But as it is, it stands like a good addition to the 9 to 5 category, and stands out because the guy (Josh the man, the actor, the filmmaker) has lived and knows his stuff.
The non-hero Josh is not an anti-hero. Rather he is a totally unconnected and disconnected and uninvolved fellow who can be said to be a Totally Temp human.
His daydreams, dreams, nightmares and other situations fit the office context cleverly, and --what I, for one, appreciate --without trying to sell viewpoints to the audience. Satisfying too are the unobtrusive variants of Godard-like jump cuts which liven up things as they make a good distinction between stage monologue and cinematic flexibility. The latter is aided and abetted by a good supporting cast which plays in restrained farcical modes.
On purpose I have refrained from specifying the funny bits: the temp's block at doing his assignment; the good sound effects of office machines, the uncooperative printer that Josh cajoles with baby talk, etc.
Comedy is hard. Unspectacular comedy is even harder. Like food it is can divide the viewers' reactions. One person's delicatessen can be another's poison.