Josh Kornbluth is a funny guy. He has a nervous, jittery way about him, delivering his views on the world with gusto, while giving off a unique combination of being both obsessed and lazy. He looks odd, a pudgy schlump with glasses, a balding head, long messy hair on the sides and back, and an array of Hawaiian shirts. Even his name is kind of funny.
But he has the guts to play a version of himself in this smart comedy, one in which Kornbluth is in every single scene, riding the surprisingly lively script into the world of office temp stardom.
And that screenplay is very close to Kornbluth’s heart — written by him and his brother Jacob (they’re co-directors and co-producers, as well), it’s based on a monologue of Josh’s, chronicling his life as a temp in San Francisco, and the horrors that can occur when permanent employee status comes knocking at your formerly comfortable career door.
In fact, the story is so close to the real Josh that he opens the film with a charming disclaimer, saying that actors were used in the film and that no “real lawyers” were portrayed (much of the action takes place at law firms). To further state his point, he tries to convince us that the setting is the beautiful, fictional town of “San Franclisco.”
On paper, the comparisons to Woody Allen are easy — a well-weaved combination of both whip-smart comments and broad comedy — but those disappear once you see Haiku Tunnel. It’s got a more agreeable simplicity than Allen’s movies, both in its presentation and in its characters. Josh easily explains, with no apologies, that being a temp gave him such a simple pride, and he was never late. However, the intricacies of being a permanent staffer (but having the same job tasks!) make him late all the time. It’s got a certain sweetness.
And that succeeds through most of the film, even when the story gets a bit surreal for the sake of fun. Josh’s minimal success, his sad, fellow secretaries in the firm and the female lawyer that begins to fall for him all have a real human side that the brothers/directors make sure to bring out. It injects a film that often looks like a first feature with a cool dose of humor and maturity.
Comedies about the workplace have certainly been done before, and recent movies like Office Space and Clockwatchers have collected loyal fans by expressing the boredom and pain of today’s 9-to-5 in a cube. By reducing the experiences to one man — one, funny, neurotic, sloppy man — we get a different take, with a guy that can write, direct, produce, and truly star in his own feature. Sounds like a good job.
The DVD has a number of extras, including some outtakes and deleted scenes worth a chuckle. The commentary by both Josh and his co-director brother Jacob is also quite amusing — like hanging out at a bar with the two for a couple of hours.
Reviewed as part of our 2001 Boston Film Festival coverage.
Review by Norm Schrager © 2001 filmcritic.com