Friday, September 23, 2022

Comedy Watch: Out of Office (2022)

Watched:  09/10/2022
Format:  Comedy Central DVR
Viewing: First
Director: Paul Lieberstein

Not so long ago, I got my bivalent COVID booster shot, and it basically took my ass out all weekend.  At some point I'd decided to DVR the Comedy Central movie Out of Office (2022) as it seemed to have okay comedic actors in it, and you never know.  

Leslie Jones, Ken Jeong, Jay Pharaoh, Oscar Nunez, Jason Alexander, Cheri Oteri, many others, and - most important, Lily the AT&T girl herself, Milana Veyntraub.  I think we've all been pulling for Veyntraub for a while, but she never really shows up anywhere other than AT&T ads.  She was almost a Marvel at one point, but her turn as Squirrel Girl has disappeared into the bin of history.

This movie, written and directed by King of the Hill and The Office alum Paul Lieberstein, is truly a complete waste of a viewers time.  Everything is vaguely joke shaped in a way that you can imagine working if it was workshopped a bit or didn't feel like something pulled out of a Judd Apatow movie's reel of stuff that didn't even make the bloopers.  The lead (tragically Veyntraub) is breathtakingly unlikable as written, which translates to - this is just like sitting at work with your worst colleagues, not people you want to spend time with.  And, worst, it tries to find some schmaltzy closure about the friends we found along the way at the end, which is utterly unearned.  

I don't know who thought a *lot* of the set-ups in this movie were funny, but literally nothing in this works.  And they use Jay Pharaoh as the straight man - and he's notably a funny guy?  

If Lieberstein understood office culture, in no way does he understand white collar work in the online world - something millions of us have now entered into in the past 2+ years.  It seems based more on social zoom calls with friends like we were all doing in 2022.  What actually IS funny about working online is not seen anywhere in this film.  The slow degradation of people's personal upkeep and facial hair, if you see them at all, is always interesting.  Calls interrupted by insane animals and children, inexplicable technology issues, people walking by in the background, people having to drop off for inexplicable reasons...  people just not showing up and you just sit there, no idea what is happening.  There was stuff to mine.  But it's not here.  And there's no reason to think a successful movie and TV guy writing and directing this, or a bunch of working actors, would have any clue what it actually is like.  But it isn't... watching marriages fall apart in real time.  In fact, the weirdest thing about work from home is that you never get small talk.  You know everyone just through meetings.  

And, man, watching two marriages fold is not the yuk-fest the movie assumes.  It *could* be funny.  But it is not.

The Chris Gethard subplot about chicken w/ wine dish was...  tedious at best.  And it just goes on and on.  Had they just kept doing it, I'd at least give it Andy Kaufman points, but instead it's just something you sit through knowing a room full of comedic actors watched this and did not stop it.  At some point, someone needed to say "this keeps happening and it's not actually funny."

Arguably, the best and funniest part of the movie is Cheri Oteri and Jason Alexander.  And they disappear 15 minutes in.

Our central figure is not arriving from the POV of the everyperson.  She's a 1980's Steve Gutenberg shit-stirrer, but the problem is - that's not us.  She's not fighting establishment, she's a bad person walking into a toxic situation and making everything worse because she seems like a chronic narcissist.  We would *hate* all of these people if we worked with or for them.  So spending time with them (and their spouses) isn't *funny*, it's just another day at the office, but one where you can't imagine it isn't ending in a pile of lawsuits.

I don't know what's going on with comedy these days, at least in movie form.  You get funny TV shows all the time, where you're able to connect with characters and they build the repeated opportunity for comedy based on what we know about the character placed into a situation.  And maybe had this been stretched out over a season of 13 episodes, we'd grow fond of the characters as they revealed themselves.  But this just feels like comedic actors doing bits from 5 x 7 cards without checking in to see if it's working.  We don't know these people, and so getting dropped in their messy lives doesn't feel like a source of humor - it falls on the side of pathos, which is absolutely not helped by the film's turn to saccharine and unearned hand-wavy shit about being there for each other.

Look, there's nothing tougher than comedy.  Tragedy is far easier by comparison.  And I don't think this film was ever really intended to be seen by human eyes.  It feels like a way for people to kill time during the lockdown and maybe make a few bucks.  Burying it on deep basic cable is a sign of something.  

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