THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE GIANT MECHANICAL MAN"
You've seen people like Tim before. He's one of those street performers who dress up in strange costumes and stand motionless for hours, unless someone approaches them, in which case they move like robots until you throw some change in their hats. Why do people do that? What motivates somebody to take on such an esoteric hobby? In The Giant Mechanical Man, Tim (Chris Messina) views himself as an artist. He paints his face metallic blue, wears a matching suit, and dons stilts to make himself taller. In his mind, he is making a statement about the lonely and isolated; his alter ego represents the faceless loners who pass by unnoticed every day. Tim's girlfriend (Lucy Punch) thinks its weird, especially since he doesn't have a formal job, so she unceremoniously dumps him.
You probably also know someone like Janice (Jenna Fischer). She's young, and pretty, and completely clueless as to what she wants from life. She could probably have it all, if only she knew what all was. Her overachieving younger sister (Malin Akerman) tries to help by pushing Janice in various directions, including setting her up with an obnoxious author/motivational speaker (Topher Grace). These interventions only serve to confirm just how confused Janice is, because none of them feel right.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Janice has seen Tim performing on the street and being interviewed on TV. She gets his art. When they both, for different reasons, end up working low-paying zoo jobs together, a connection is formed. Janice doesn't recognize him, though, and he's reluctant to divulge his passion for fear of being rejected again. The story puts the characters through various complications. We sense they belong together, but the question is whether they can overcome their own insecurities to figure that out for themselves.
The Giant Mechanical Man, written and directed by Lee Kirk, is a film about lost people. Some folks have their lives all figured out; others stand on the sidelines and wonder why they can't figure anything out. Janice and Tim are of the latter variety. The story is quite truthful in the way it depicts them individually struggling for something to hold onto. Tim loves his art, but it doesn't pay the bills. Janice has job qualifications, but has never sparked to anything. Both have fundamental self-confidence issues, so their burgeoning relationship is always shaky, despite the fact that they are each painfully aware of the desire to connect. Jenna Fischer and Chris Messina do exceptional work here, making the characters immensely likable. You can relate to them even if you've never quite walked a mile in their shoes. The stars share a nice chemistry as well, creating a bond that brings real warmth to the story's emotional ending.
Like a lot of independent pictures, The Giant Mechanical Man wears its indie quirks on its sleeve a little too much. Some of those quirks feel forced, especially the stuff with Topher Grace's self-possessed creep. If you can get past that and I definitely could you'll find an earnest, good-hearted movie about two kind people learning an important lesson: sometimes, in order for the light bulb to go on over your head, the right person has to flip the switch.
Note: The Giant Mechanical Man debuted at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, and is available for viewing now through Video on Demand platforms.
( out of four)
The Giant Mechanical Man is rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.
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