For most of us at one time or another we have been fired. It is rarely pleasant; being called into the boss’ office, and told that we no longer work for the company. It is usually a blow to your self esteem no matter how confident we normally may be. Even if the job was really bad no one wants to hear they are not needed. The vast majority of people have to deal with this unfortunate fact of life the best they can. May be you go out for a drink or two with friends or fantasize about heinous things happening to your former boss. For actress Annabelle Gurwitch she used her skills in the art of cinema to put together a comic documentary that looks at the personal aftermath of being canned. Armed with a camera and an idea Gurwitch interviews friends and strangers about their experience with being ‘let go’.
Annabelle Gurwitch has been a regularly working actress since the mid eighties. Over the years she has had appearances on numerous television shows with parts ranging from featured roles to parts simply designated ‘Jo, the topless prostitute’. Currently she has a commentary segment on NPR and hosts a movie night on Bravo. We have all seen her work but may not have realized who she was. This is the downside of being a well employed and talented character actress; you get the work but rarely the fame. She is a New Yorker and as such has found work in this city. This also put her on the RADAR of one of the Big Apple’s most famous personalities in film, Woody Allen.
As the film opens we see Gurwitch walking down the streets of New York. This scene is filmed in black and white with an old fashion honky-tonk piano playing. She gets a call from her manager telling her that Woody Allen loves her and wants to cast her in a play he is doing. For Gurwitch working with Allen was the equivalent of getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval; as an actor you have made it. Her moment of joy quickly crashes as after some rehearsals Allen wants to talk to her. In a reenactment using a Woody Allen look a like we get to hear the criticism that Allen provides. He calls her voice annoying and states that she looks retarded on the stage. He fires her from the production. Gurwitch is devastated by the experience. In a matter of minutes she went from the dream job to being fired by a cultural icon. Since she told all of her friends about working with Allen Gurwitch knew she now had to tell all of them about being axed. Although she felt like the only person in the world that got fired Gurwitch realized she was one of over one million people to be laid off that year alone. To help herself out of her funk she begins to ask others if they ever were fired. The inevitable answer is yes, always followed by some sort of story.
This is the inspiration and basis for this documentary. Being fired is just about a universal human experience. We all have our stories it is true that misery loves company. In the first of the conversations Gurwitch is at her doctor’s officer and chats with the nurse. The nurse relates that in one job she was so talkative that the kept moving her from one spot to another. Finally they placed her next to a woman who was hearing impaired hoping that would resolve the issue. It didn’t and she was fired. She was so humiliated that she didn’t even return for her things. A friend of hers handed her a rock to take case of the boss. Gurwitch and the nurse both have a good laugh over the tale; the all too human reaction to an upsetting moment in life that they shared. As Gurwitch explains the hardest part of the day when you have just been fired is the morning. Waking up with no job to go to just reinforces the feels of self doubt created by getting let go. Initially Gurwitch reaches out to her friends in the entertainment business. If there is any group of people that have to deal with rejection on a regular basis it is them. One friend, comedian David Cross, sends her a video tape where he likens getting fired to breaking up in a relationship. At first it hurts but over time the feeling will fade. There is a scene that hopefully is an over dramatization where she gulps down some whiskey while having her morning pop tart and then goes off to the store in her PJs and robe. Still depressed she even turns to her rabbi for solace. Soon the premise for this project takes hold and Gurwitch begins to piece her life back together. She gathers her show biz friends and outs on a show featuring tales of their regular jobs and how they lost them.
While most of the stories concerning her famous and almost famous friends are funny this documentary would fall flat fast if this was the only way Gurwitch looked at this issue. In an attempt to be a far more attractive Michael Moore she goes out and looks at firings across the country. One woman in Michigan was fired because she was a smoker. Gurwitch learns that in that state and many others the employer does not have to state a specific cause for termination. She also takes a look at companies that make a living out of taking jobs away from others. Some handle the corporate side making it easier to downsize the employee herd. Others provide seminars for the employee on how to face termination as a change that could be an opportunity.
The film is overall entertaining and enlightening. It does suffer somewhat in how it was presented. The focus changes rapidly, often in the middle of a story. Gurwitch will interrupt her subject to add her own witty remarks breaking the pace. There are also some strange segments added to the mix. Actor Tate Donovan relates how he was fired from the film version of ‘The Torch Song Trilogy’ after only a day at work. The worse thing was the film was shooting right outside his apartment. What was odd in the telling of this story was it was done using puppets. Using a fake Woody Allen is one thing but telling your story with your hand in a sock is something a bit too off beat. Gurwitch tries too hard too often to let this film reach its full potential. Fortunately it does reach out to the audience on a very human and common level.
Shout is one of my favorite DVD distributors. I always look forward to anything from them that I get to review. Mostly because their selections are unusual, not something that most people even knew was out there. In this case the DVD is just fun to watch. It could have been more in the line of social reform but in the end it is something that is more like commiserating with friends over a recent pink slip.