The Promotion

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John C. Reilly (right) showed his acting chops in Chicago. Seann William Scott shows he can do more than American Pie.

It’s early in the year, but safe to say – this is one of the best comedies of the year. Both Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly have faces that make you laugh just by the expressions they make (although that didn’t make Walk Hard that funny).

Steve Conrad wrote and directed this film, his first time behind the camera. He had previously written Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, The Weather Man, and The Pursuit of Happyness. All of them had their moments, but weren’t great films. This movie is like a combination of Clerks and Office Space – and like those movies, probably won’t do well at the box office, but people will realize how subtly brilliant it is on video. It’s destined to be a cult classic.

It’s a story about climbing the corporate ladder, and all the butt kissing, back-stabbing, and gossiping that goes on in the work place. It shows what a toll all of the office politics can take on a person, and make people with good intentions do some really horrible things. It was apparently based on Conrad witnessing a fight in a Chicago supermarket parking lot, with only a guy wearing a yellow store vest trying to break it up. That similar scene that’s recreated here, with Scott trying to tell loiterers to leave an old lady alone, is so cleverly written. With that scene, and one where Will Ferrell yells at Mike Ditka (in Kicking and Screaming) to “go get me a juice box!”…I think juice boxes should be used in every comedy.

I wish more comedies were made in this style. A realistic movie where one character isn’t just the butt of jokes, but that they’re real people with real problems, and the humor derives from uncomfortable situations.

Here’s the story. Scott is an assistant manager at a grocery store. His boss (Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live), tells him he’s going to get the manager position at the new store opening up nearby. This means he and his wife (Jenna Fischer of The Office, who played Reilly’s wife in Walk Hard), can buy a house and move out of their small apartment.

Reilly has just been transferred from the Montreal branch, and he’s one of the new assistant managers. He’d also like a shot at managing the new store. He seems nice enough, and has a wife (Lili Taylor), a daughter, and is in AA. He often rides the bus, listening to self-help CDs to help with self-esteem issues. That’s always worth an easy laugh in movies, hearing that monotone voice tell you that you’re good enough, you’re worthy, etc.

One of the many things I loved about Conrad’s script is that we don’t hate Reilly. We are rooting for Scott, perhaps because he’s the first character we’re introduced to. Also because the more we learn about them, the more we also lean towards liking Scott a bit more. Yet, that doesn’t mean Reilly is out there keying his car or anything. Things might get nasty, but they’re both to blame for that. It’s so refreshing for a writer to not insult our intelligence by feeling one character had to be written as the evil one.

There’s a time when we find out Reilly builds ships in bottles to control his temper. That calms him down. At some point, he decides to take dance lessons, but it’s only tap that’s available. Something happens where he cancels the classes, but can’t get a refund. Later, we see him doing laundry by himself. As he walks, we hear the clicking of the tap shoes. Most of the people in the theatre didn’t laugh, but I was howling. It reminded me of a Kids in the Hall skit where a father threatens to kill his son while he sleeps. That son gives the father tap shoes as a gift (so he can hear him coming up the stairs). Okay, so juice boxes and tap shoes – both need to be used more in comedies.

When my friend and I were leaving the screening, we couldn’t stop laughing and talking about our favorite scenes. Yet I know this type of humor won’t appeal to everyone. They’d much rather have Adam Sandler sitting on a toilet screaming. Heck, box office receipts prove me right on that.

As we discussed the movie, I think we rehashed the entire film right there in the parking lot, laughing at everything we were describing.

The court case, the plotting against each other, inappropriate things said around the boss, the juice box…did I already mention the juice box?

This movie might not be as good as Office Space or Clerks, but I’m sick of everybody saying “How come I don’t remember when that movie was out at the theatres?” Well, because if they don’t make money or have good word of mouth, they disappear after a week. Don’t let that happen to this gem. Go see it tomorrow, or the next day.

I’m giving it an A-.

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