(director/writer/producer: Gary Burns; screenwriter: James Martin; cinematographer: Patrick McLaughlin; editor: Mark Lemmon; music: John Abram; cast: Don McKellar (Brad), Fab Filippo (Tom), Marya Delver (Sandra), Gordon Currie (Curt), Jennifer Clement (Vicki), Tammy Isbell (Kathy), James McBurney (Phil), Derek Flores (Paul), Tobias Godson (Randy), Mike Eberly (Superhero), Harris Hart (Mr. Mather), Judith Buchan (Mrs. Drysdale), Xantha Radley (June); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Shirley Vercruysse; Lot 47 Films; 2000-Canada)

“The perfect film for those who like sick comedies that can be snide.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The perfect film for those who like sick comedies that can be snide. Canadian writer/director Gary Burns’ (“The Suburbanators-1995“/ “Kitchen Party-1997“) Waydowntown keeps the quirky premise humming throughout, no matter that the premise is limited in scope, as it highlights how the modern workplace eats up a big chunk of our life more than ever before in history. It provocatively asks us to examine where we work and why. It also smartly gets under the yuppie skin it portrays, as they wrestle with their workplace insecurities and personality defects. It tries to find a rhyme or reason why so many go nuts in their office job, or try suicide. Suicide is always a good source of comedy for sick humor, and this film does not disappoint in that regard.

Four bored twentysomething workers, Tom (Fab Filippo), Sandra (Marya Delver), Randy (Tobias Godson) and Curt (Gordon Currie), in the same Calgary downtown interconnected site of office buildings/mall centers/apartment complexes, have all bet a month’s salary to see who can stay indoors the longest. The winner will make $10,000. If they choose to do so, they never need go outside and get fresh air for the remainder of their working days–that is if they can be satisfied breathing the recycled office-building air and can refrain from participating in outside worldly activities. In the unique complexes where they work, shop, eat and reside, they are connected by a maze of glassed-in bridges.

OK, it has a juvenile plot line and the characters are a bunch of creepy smart alecks, but what do you expect from a lighthearted office comedy about an often told subject–something Shakespearean?

The wager was cooked up by Tom and Randy. Tom is the cynical narrator of the film and snide questioner of authority, who is freaking out big time. He escapes reality by smoking weed and fantasizing that a caped superhero (Eberly) will come along to save him from his fate. He’s been on the job for 5 months but already his work experience is nagging at his conscience, as he can’t imagine spending his whole life doing what he’s now doing. As a constant reminder of how bad the consequences could be there’s his fellow office worker he shares an office cubicle with, the pent-up with rage middle-aged Bradley (Don McKellar), whom he has nothing in common with and can’t communicate with the 20 year work veteran he considers to be a loser–acerbically nicknaming him ‘Sadly I’m Bradley.’ Bradley cracks up and staples motivational messages to his chest, such as “sacrifice = success.” He also seems set on suicide if he can only figure out a way to break the reinforced sealed windows so he can jump, and to make matters more bleak there’s only the self-absorbed Tom to give him support. The other original prankster, Randy, is a bland but irascible type who finds this wager a good way to make time pass without him examining his true feelings. Sandra is the gung-ho type, always courting favor with her superiors, who joined to show she was not a cold fish and could be one of the boys. While Curt is a bit of a weirdo, who has been engaged for two years and has not had sex with his future wife. He fancies himself as a ladies man who has never stopped chasing after them despite his engagement.

The film’s title is derived from a bad joke, which serves the film well. Tom is asked by a young, obnoxious worker at the mall coffee shop “What’s the difference between the #15 bus and a box of marbles?” The answer is: “the bus takes you downtown, but the marbles take you waydowntown.” That means you’ve gone suicidal or loony.

The story picks up on day 24 of this wager, and all four characters are having trouble spending another meaningless day at work. Tom is trying to keep things from becoming a nightmare as he feels himself changing so much he can’t recognize what he’s become. On his way to complete his errand during lunch hour to pick up at a mall specialty shop an expensive vase as a birthday gift the company is presenting to its founder, the irresponsible youth lusts after a hyper bimbo with quite a bod, Kathy (Tammy Isbell), whom he spots on the phone where he’s eating pizza. She makes him forget his errand as he gets involved with following her and antagonizes her mentally disturbed mall flower delivery boyfriend (Derek Flores) by telling him that she’s his girlfriend. The delivery boy is prone to violent attacks and his jealousy drives him to act suicidal. As part of Sandra’s job, she’s asked to follow the company’s 80-year-old founder (Harris Hart) around the mall when he goes out of the office. The boss is a kleptomaniac and it’s Sandra’s job to make sure he returns the stolen item or else she discretely pays for it. Sandra has also begun to look pale and is in the midst of having anxiety attacks due to lack of fresh air, and resorts to smelling the perfume from magazines to revive her. Curt seems to be adjusting best, but then again he’s not all there. He maneuvers another office worker, Vickie (Jennifer Clement), who has similarly been engaged for two years, into having sex with him in the lavatory stall. While Randy is stuck trying to find a way of going outside on a job-related errand without being discovered.

The ensemble cast was just delightful, and Fab Filippo’s performance in particular was engaging. The film wasn’t edgy, but it was silly enough to tickle my childish funny bone. It had the feel of an indie, and its urban horror tale was made to look even more claustrophobic by being shot in oppressive colors in the digital format. It complements Jill Sprecher’s superior and more involving 1998 Clockwatchers, but at least both films take you behind the office cubicle and offer the viewer who might also be trapped in a pointless office job more than just some coffee and doughnuts.

Waydowntown Poster

REVIEWED ON 3/14/2003 GRADE: B –