The Promotion (2008)
Perhaps the greatest thing about movies is how they can transport you to almost any conceivable world or situation. You can live vicariously through the characters to become an international spy or save the earth from a menace from another planet. Film can also do something that may seem more mundane but is just as important. It can take events and circumstances that you live every day and show them to you in a different light. Take the workplace for example. Most of us go to work and do our best hoping for a promotion and a bit more in the old paycheck to make ends meet and improve our standard of living. This may seem like such a routine thing that it would hardly make for a movie. The movie ‘The Promotion’ makes a whole hearted attempt at doing just that. It takes a simple premise of two men competing for a promotion and turns it into a more than passable comedy. Sure, there are more than a few moments that are down right silly. In this particular case it is acceptable. Most of us can well use a laugh at something that is so much a part of our own lives. This is not about the world of high finance or the intricacies of the legal or medical profession. The setting is far more familiar to us all, the local supermarket. We go in for our weekly grocery shop and pass by people working there. We might even be part of the staff. In any case this is a place that may be mundane but it offers a locale that we instantly recognize and can identify with. Even if you work in a office or some other business you will be able to empathize with the motivations of the main characters. This isn’t a glamorous flick that will take you out of your life; it is a quite little comedy with modest goals that will bring a smile of familiarity to your face and perhaps even a few laughs. After a hard day at work this is perfect to kick back and enjoy. It is also the type of movie that you are more prone to watch at home than going to see at the theater. Now that option is available thanks to the DVD release from the Weinstein Corporation.
This is only the second time as the director for Steve Conrad but in his career as a screen writer he has some impressive credits prior to this film. He wrote the scripts for ‘The Weather Man’ and the award winning ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. These previous scripts demonstrate that Conrad has the talent required for both comedy and human drama. This film is an attempt to combine both formats and while there are some missteps along the way he does succeed in providing the audience with a humorous flick that they can relate to. The film is not one of those with huge laughs into. It is more subtle so to induce chuckles and giggles more than out right laughs. This is in line with the subject matter though. Think of it as being on the job with these people. You wouldn’t laugh out loud at their antics but instead run into the break run and smirk. Of course there are going to be moments here that will have you rolling around in laughter. Conrad goes off in an unusual direction with this screenplay. Normally you would try to polarize the audience by making one character in a competition the good guy and the other the bad guy. This is not the case here as Conrad makes them both flawed but understandable men. They each want the same job for the usual reason, more money, and have their financial stability on the line with this new job. With the cost of food, gasoline and electricity constantly going up to record heights there is no bad guy needed but the economy.
As a new director you might think that Conrad would need some sort of learning curve. Actually, he has a style down pretty well. He starts off with a very broad comedy that borders on the slapstick. This is just his way of grabbing the audience and pulling us in. Once the fundamental plot, characters and relationships are established Conrad switches gears and the piece becomes more character driven. By this time the viewers have established a rapport with the characters and perhaps even chosen sides in the promotional challenge. After so many so called reality shows on TV like the ‘Apprentice’ we are somewhat used to people doing any silly thing required to get ahead and stoop to the diabolical to impede his rival. This break from traditional comedy film techniques may make this a film that goes over better with fans than the more critically inclined. From a technical stand point the movie falls short. What really matters is the film is targeted to working people; ones who will understand the characters.
Doug Stauber (Seann William Scott) is a regular sort of guy who makes a living as the assistant manager for a supermarket chain in Chicago, Donaldson’s. At 32 life isn’t all that bad. He lives in a small apartment with his wife Jen (Jenna Fischer) who works as a nurse. The main problem in their lives is they are stuck in a small apartment with paper thin walls and noisy neighbors. They find the perfect house for them but unless Doug gets a pending promotion as manager of a new market opening up they will not be able to afford it. Doug feels that he is the natural choice for the job with no one even close to getting the position. That is until Richard Welhner (John C. Reilly) moves to town from Canada. He is a recovering addict who is trying to make a fresh start in Chicago with his wife Lori (Lili Taylor). Richard has a great record at work, is polite and efficient which puts him into contention for the new manager’s job. At this point most directors would go off in an ever escalating set of plots where each man tries to sabotage the other. Instead Conrad starts off to reveal the characters to a greater degree. Both men are portrayed as honest family men that deserve the promotion. They both work hard and would do a great job as manager and both families need the added income. Rather than episodic gags the humor here relies more on running gags that hold the movie together.
There is one thing that really excels in this film, the cast. Seann William Scott is best known for goofy ‘R’ rated comedies but shows here that he can pull things back to a more subtle form of humor. As for Reilly he is one of the most versatile actors of his generation. He can play the sad sack to perfection and his comic timing is impeccable. He brings depth to the film like few could. Fischer is used to this type of setting wither work in the hit TV sit-com, ‘The Office’. Taylor is also an extremely talented actor who has an unbelievable range and feel for comedy. Together this ensemble cast work together in such a way that can not help but to get into the film.
The film finds its DVD release through the Weinstein Company and Genius Productions. As usual for them they do a great job of mastering the film with flawless audio and video. There are also numerous extras provided for some added insight and amusement. This is a blue collar film that even office workers will enjoy. If you have a job and need more income you will get the jokes and enjoy.