One of the most difficult types of films to pull off is the black comedy. By its very nature the film has to be somewhat morbid and exist in a world of the absurd. As much as I am often drawn to this kind of movie, I haven’t found more than a handful that were able to pull it off. The black comedy usually involves someone’s death, often by some bizarre means, and almost always in a world of moral ambiguity, where such things fail to affect the emotions or consciences of those involved. The death has to appear almost matter-of-fact. Probably the best example of a good black comedy is Michael Caine’s A Shock To The System. Bad examples include the Weekend At Bernie’s films. Now you can add The Job to one of the better examples of the genre.
Meet Bubba (Flueger). He’s a typical down-on-his-luck kind of guy. He can’t hold a job and has been in these dire straits for over a decade. He spends most of his time hanging out at the diner where his girlfriend Joy (Manning) works the counter. Usually all he can afford is a cup of coffee. He whiles away the time listening to Joy talk about her acting career. As a child she was in a popular show, but hasn’t found a part since that time. It doesn’t help that she possesses an exaggerated limp, dragging one of her legs as she walks. Apparently, it’s a lifetime disability. When we see footage of her as a child on her series, the kid is dragging the same leg. Enter Jim (Perlman). He’s dressed in an urban cowboy outfit and sits next to Bubba and asks what’s good. Bubba recommends the trucker’s special, which Jim quickly orders. But suddenly Jim doesn’t feel so hungry and offers the food to the obviously very hungry Bubba. The two talk a spell, and eventually Bubba offers to let Jim park his car to sleep in at his spot next to his apartment. Feeling obliged for the favor, Jim offers him a sheet of paper given to him by a man he helped in Baltimore. The slip is for a job interview at someplace called Be Your Own Boss. Bubba figures “why not”, and goes to the office.
At Be Your Own Boss, Bubba is interviewed by Mr. Perriman (Pantoliano), an aged man who wants to know what Bubba’s favorite weapon happens to be. This should have been a sign for him to run, but curiosity and desperation get the best of him. He learns that the job is to kill a guy named Martin (Harelik), who happens to be quietly sitting in the same room with them and his wife. They all work for a guy named Mr. D (Itzin). Mr. D doesn’t like to be disappointed, and apparently Martin has disappointed him. That entitles him to select the manner of his execution. He chooses strangulation by Bubba’s bare hands. And the payday is 200 grand cash money. It’s a dilemma for Bubba. He talks it over with Joy and then Jim, who volunteers to do the leg …I mean hand work for an even split of the payment. All is never what it appears to be. Before long Bubba finds himself in the middle of a complicated and sticky situation.
This film has all of the ingredients of the perfect black comedy. It all starts with a very clever script by Shem Bitterman from his own stage play. This really looks like it could be a wickedly funny stage play. Bitterman also directs. I mean, who should know more about this thing than he does, right? The next crucial ingredient is the cast. You need actors with the ability to carry off these parts but in a serious way. They can’t be manic comedy actors here. The black comedy depends on the actors playing it straight. The comedy comes from the absurdity and not from the antics of the cast. This is not the kind of thing that works with actors like Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy. This cast is a very good one. For starters, I love Joe Pantoliano. The guy is about as good as it gets. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking comedy or drama. He has that kind of acting chops. Here he’s actually underused and buried behind some ridiculous old-man makeup. The guy we usually see in makeup is Ron Perlman, but here he’s the eccentric cowboy, Jim, or “three day man” because he always sets his watch for 72 hours when he enters a new town. When the watch beeps, it’s time to blow town, and he never returns to the same place ever again. Perlman is completely selling himself for the part. You never know exactly what to make of him, but he talks like a used car salesman. He doesn’t really command a lot of trust. Of course in the bizzaro world of the black comedy, Bubba trusts him unquestioningly. Patrick Flueger is fair as Bubba. He’s not quite so immersed in the character, but he has enough terrific support around him that the part is essentially idiot-proof. I also never really warmed up to Taryn Manning as Joy. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s that limp. It’s too over the top.
There are a lot of twists and turns along the way which I’d do you a genuine disservice if I went into any more details. Remember. There are rules for watching a black comedy:
1. Never take what you see at face value. Nothing is necessarily what it appears.
2. Don’t ask any questions. Logic doesn’t work in this world.
3. You’ve got to let that morbid side of you out to play. This is a morally-neutral playing field.
4. Have fun. The Job would be an excellent introduction to the world of the black comedy.
The Job is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The movie looks rather dark, but it’s really part of the style. The film was shot in winter in Philadelphia, and the cold lack of lighting is quite natural, if a bit depressing. There’s fair detail in the close-ups, enough to see how bad the makeup on Joey Pants happens to be.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is a dialog piece straight through.
The Making Of The Job: (26:56) This is mostly just interview clips with little actual behind the scenes footage. It’s the typical love-fest. I would really have liked to see more actual insight and less patting everybody on the back.
Alternate Ending: (8:32) An introduction leads into a better ending than the one on the film.
Like any kind of movie, the black comedy isn’t for everybody. I know folks who insist on a certain logic to their universe, and it gives them gas when someone screws with that logic. Good guys don’t wear white. Bad guys don’t wear black. There is no good or bad. And most of the time what you would normally define as the bad guys win in the end. Somebody’s going to end up dead, and it’ll be hilarious. Give it a try. “The job is murder.”