REVIEW: 'The Giant Mechanical Man'
Saturday, July 07, 2012
Director Lee Kirk's Tribeca Film Festival offering tells the story of Janice, played by Fischer, a woman who just can't seem to find her place in life — or figure out why everyone is in such a rush to make her find that place. After losing her job at a temp agency, Janice moves back in home with her sister Jill, played with forceful determination by Malin Akerman. While Jill is busy setting Janice up with an icky motivational speaker (embodied by a long-haired Topher Grace), Janice falls in love with Chris Messina's Tim, her co-worker at her new zoo job. In his spare time, Tim dresses up as the titular giant mechanical man, roaming the city, hoping to let people know that despite everything wrong with the world, they're not crazy.
With small parts in Blades of Glory and Hall Pass aside, Fischer is best known for her role as The Office's Pam Halpert. For many of us, Fischer isn't just Pam, but Pam is Fischer, a character who has supplanted the actress who plays her in real life. Considering that The Office might be nearing the end of its run, Fischer needs to break out of the Pam Halpert mold if she ever hopes to build a career beyond The Office.
The Giant Mechanical Man begins that transformation for Fischer. Yes, Janice is similar to Pam in some ways, both characters quiet and not always in control of their lives. For years now, though, Fischer has been playing Pam Halpert the wife and mother. This film reminds us that Fischer can play the single woman lost in a sea of choices. She can play the woman realizing that she's falling in love. She can play the woman who wrestles her life away from a job she hates, a family who believes they know best for her and from the pompous motivational speaker who has set his sights on her.
The other acting highlight of the film has to be Doug, played with just the right amount of sketchiness by Grace. Rocking a full head of long hair, Grace doesn't hold back in portraying Doug as a man who has completely bought into his own motivational speaker spiel, constantly citing his own books and attempting to woo Janice. A scene where Doug puts his arm around Janice and proceeds to plant several peckish kisses on her cheek, all without Janice's reciprocation, is the most cringe-worthy scene of the film.
The rest of the cast holds their own, with Messina's Tim slowly evolving from a cynical street performer to a giant mechanical man who has found his heart thanks to Janice. Akerman and Mad Men's Rich Sommer dole out just the right amount of loving chaos to Janice's life, failing to see that she doesn't want what they want and continuously pushing that jerk of a motivational speaker on her. (Interesting note, one of Sommer's first roles was playing the guy who was hanging out with Pam while she was in New York City for art school in The Office.)
Kirk directs The Giant Mechanical Man at a steady pace, splicing long tracking shots of Detroit into his film. Kirk also wrote the film, and through his directing and writing, the audience instantly feels like they've known Janice for years and can sympathize with her plight. The quality of Fischer's performance can probably be partially credited to her chemistry with the director, considering that Kirk and Fischer, after meeting on the set of The Giant Mechanical Man, are now married.
If The Giant Mechanical Man is going to be the beginning of Fischer's post-The Office career, the actress is off to a good start. While I would love to see her focus on indie roles, a mainstream movie could be just what she needs to kickstart her next phase.