GIRLFRIEND’S DAY Review: Sympathy For Sad Sack Sentiment Hacks

Bob Odenkirk is a greeting card poet struggling with writer's block in this freshman narrative feature from the director of BEST WORST MOVIE.

“So, when did you quit writing?”

“I didn’t. I just quit being good at it.”

The cliché about funny people is that they’re all miserable behind closed doors. According to Michael Stephenson (Best Worst Movie, The American Scream), this same character trait is true for greeting card authors. Churning out trite two-line poetry for numerous front covers and inner folds, they work in a factory, are divorced, drink way too much, and now watch their landlord’s brood once the plant fires them and they’re unable to pay the rent. Girlfriend’s Day sees Bob Odenkirk morosely maneuvering his way through this drab, industrial day-to-day, not exactly looking for inspiration but keen to recall the glory days where only one other writer – the Walgreens literary giant known as Orwell Taft (Larry Fessenden) – was better at this racket than he is. It’s an absurdly heightened take on the “creative depressive” trope, and is milked for a decent amount of laughs before becoming a rather sweet observation regarding the ways a person can inspire another and whisk them away from their drab doldrums.

Tonally, the closest comparison point for Stephenson’s deliberately brief freshman narrative feature would be Bobcat Goldthwait’s earliest filmic endeavors (Sleeping Dogs Lie or World’s Greatest Dad). Only Girlfriend’s Day never tips over into full-blown acerbic mania like that comedian-cum-auteur’s work, playing every scene with a muted deadpan sensibility that alternates between biting and tender. Reuniting with his old Mr. Show writer, Eric Hoffman, Odenkirk’s co-written screenplay isn’t reluctant to let us know that Ray, our guide through this miasma of boozy heartbreak, is probably responsible for most of his life’s problems. Watching Bumfights in his shithole apartment and claiming cripple whenever he’s asked to write, Ray’s not even trying anymore. To be frank, he’d probably be on the path to suicide had his old boss (Alex Karpovsky) not restored his sense of purpose via a top secret mission manufactured in the men’s room of their favorite bar. “Girlfriend’s Day” is a new holiday set to be announced by the Governor, and Ray’s former supervisor requires a card for the occasion. So the burnt out scribe sharpens a pencil and stares off into space, his imaginative vision obstructed by a chunk of immovable writer’s block.

Oh, and then Girlfriend’s Day decides to become a neo-noir murder movie. Just when a beautiful young woman (Amber Tamblyn) injects a little inspiration into his life, Ray witnesses a killing and finds himself immersed in a Big Sleep-esque world of extortionist detectives (Kevin O’Grady) and throaty femme fatales (Natasha Lyonne). It’s a jarring transition right around the movie’s midpoint, but also gifts Girlfriend’s Day a goofy sense of purpose right when it’s central conceit threatens to lose steam. By the time Ray’s getting punched in the face by a pair of thuggish “reformed racists” (Toby Huss and David Sullivan) acting under the orders of a rival cardboard sentiment magnate (Stacy Keach) the whole thing feels like preposterous Thomas Pynchon fan fic. Stephenson stages scenes with the static sensibility of a sketch comedy director, letting each performer roll with their respective odd duck performances. Though the set ups are simple, DP Richard Wong hangs a monochromatic grey veil over the entire affair, unifying the two halves of this uniquely bizarre whole just as Bobby Tahouri’s elevator jazz score becomes distractingly burlesque.

In expanding their interests to the realm of curating original content, Netflix has empowered a talented crop of young filmmakers to bring their intimate, personal visions into millions of homes. With a few of these gambles, the company’s had massive success. Two years ago, nobody could’ve told you who the Duffer Brothers were, or guessed that they’d craft a bona fide sensation. Yet what’s most impressive about their distribution plan is how Netflix doesn’t seem to be chasing any kind of successful formula. Instead, they’re snatching up a wide variety of films and series, their platform becoming just as comfortable a home to Oz Perkins’ mournful horror (I Am the Pretty Thing Who Lives in the House) as it is for a Gilmore Girls revival. Girlfriend’s Day is another example of Netflix’s omnivorous taste – a slightly inaccessible treatise on depression that sells its backbiting comedy with an array of familiar faces. The movie is certainly not destined to become the next breakout hit, even with its Prestige Television Royalty bloodline. But Girlfriend’s Days is more than likely going to enable Stephenson – who has now proven himself to be quite the adept director – to continue marching to the beat of his own artistic drummer. Here’s hoping he doesn’t suffer his own stint of impassable block.

Girlfriend’s Day is currently available on Netflix.

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