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The Giant Mechanical Man

Janice and Tim’s relationship is adorable and refreshingly real

Photo: Tribeca Film, License: N/A

Tribeca Film

Chris Messina as Tim

The Giant Mechanical Man

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We understand that films often need some sort of conflict, a source of tension that keeps viewers gripped and characters moving steadily toward the story’s conclusion. But in films that strive for a more subdued, true-to-life style, such dramatic hurdles come off as forced, defying the laws of the film’s universe. Such is the case with The Giant Mechanical Man, a sweet, low-key comedy about a woman searching for acceptance and finding it in a stilt-walking street performer.

Thirty-something Janice (Jenna Fischer) can’t hold down a job, pay the rent, or carry a cordial conversation with nearly anyone. When she’s forced to move in with her pushy sister (Malin Akerman) and brother-in-law (Rich Sommer), she’s nudged into a courtship with an egotistical self-help writer (played by a flowing-haired Topher Grace), which sort of impedes the awkward budding romance she has going with a zoo janitor/street performer named Tim (Chris Messina).

The relationship between Janice and Tim blossoms naturally, a warm spark followed by pleasant conversations that lead to subtle revelations. Writer/director Lee Kirk goes for a slice of life with this one, and the film lands there squarely without being too dry or—on the flip side—too cutesy. Fischer as Janice aids in keeping everything in check, her delivery both poised and thoroughly authentic, creating a lost character you still want to follow despite her open admission that she’s sort of off-roading everything at the moment. From the outset, she’s passive but not in the way that makes you wish you could grab her by the lapels and scream some sense into her. You catch glimpses of her tough-as-nails core through the anxious waffling, and you see that, ultimately, Janice has everything in hand.

Janice and Tim’s relationship is adorable but also refreshingly real, and when an outside source threatens it—which it must, because it’s a feature-length movie—that sense of reality shatters. The Giant Mechanical Man’s greatest strength leads to its greatest shortcoming: It’s so wonderfully genuine that when your standard three-act screenplay structure is thrust upon it, it rattles its delicate world. We’d be much happier if Kirk just kicked the rules to the curb with this one or, at the very least, figured out how to roll with them in blessed harmony.

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