Thursday, April 12, 2007


I watched Fired!, which may best be described as Annabelle Gurwitch's therapeutic exercise for coping with having gotten fired by Woody Allen, yesterday over lunch. I really wish it had been better, although the fact the IMDB decided to classify the genre of this film as both Documentary and Comedy should have been a warning. As the old joke goes, the man (or woman in this case) who walks down the middle of the road gets hit by trucks coming in both directions; and that may be a good way to summarize the experience of watching this film.

There is certainly a lot of good comedy. The reenactment of her encounter with Allen, framed in a very Allen-like cinematic style by directors Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache, worked very nicely, setting you up for seeing the opening credits using that same no-frills font that starts every Allen film. Similarly, the filmed excerpts from the off-Broadway show that Gurwitch produced, in which she recruited her friends (most of whom, at least in the excerpts, seemed to have a talent for comedy) to tell their own stories about being fired made for great comedy in both the content and the timing. I probably would have been happier to have seen this show and left things there.

Unfortunately, Gurwitch wanted to dig deeper into the nature of work, the impact of getting fired, and questions of coping and recovery. It is hard to tell whether or not she knew she was venturing into turf that had been so well mapped out by Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch), since Ehrenreich never shows up in the script as either subject or object of citation. Towards the end of the film, she does sit down with both Robert Reich and Ben Stein (who definitely knows more about economics than his television personality would lead you to believe). While Reich may have had more impressive credentials, Stein turned out to be the one more willing to recognize Gurwitch's topic as a symptom of a more profound disease; but the material excerpted for the film do little more than provide him with a platform to express is strong indignation at a national policy that continues to ignore that disease. Of course it may be that Stein's interview came off best because it was the one setting in which Gurwitch did not try to put in a comic twist. Where comedy would have been more appropriate would have been in her visit to Right Management, one of those "transition management" firms that usually get contracted by the business doing the firing and do little more than keep the victims of the firing off the streets (at least for the duration of the contract). The extent to which such businesses offer little more than shallow illusions is a perfect target for ridicule, but Gurwitch did not seem to appreciate this well enough to exploit what could have been the best opportunity to invoke comedy in the service of documentary.

Gurwitch might have done better to read, if nothing more, the final sentence on the dust jacket of Bait and Switch:

Alternately hilarious and tragic, Bait and Switch, like the now-classic Nickel and Dimed, is a searing exposé of economic cruelty where we least expect it.

Only Stein seemed willing to recognize that cruelty for what it is and try to put it in its place. The way in which he has managed to make himself into a television personality (even making fun of the fact that he really does know a lot of important things) makes me wish that he had been the one writing the script for this film!

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