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DVD SAVANT

Waydowntown


Waydowntown
Home Vision Entertainment
2000 / Color / 1:66 flat letterbox / 87 min. / Street Date March 16, 2005 / 24.95
Starring Fab Filippo, Don McKellar, Marya Delver, Gordon Currie, Jennifer Clement, Tammy Isbell, Tobias Godson, James McBurney
Cinematography Patrick McLaughlin
Production Designer Donna Brunsdale
Film Editor Mark Lemmon
Original Music John Abram
Written by Gary Burns, James Martin
Produced by Gary Burns, Bryan Gliserman, Sharon McGowan, Marguerite Pigott, Shirley Vercruysse
Directed by Gary Burns

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

When studios today create (or disgorge) comedies about "young people", they tend to be R-rated raunch-fests about boys eager to lose their virginity, girls with the instincts of Borgia courtesans, and a supporting cast vying to act louder and more stupid than the next person. Small wonder that the best films about twenty-somethings in search of their destinies in a brave new world are independent efforts that get little media attention. Last year Home Vision gave us the superlative Late Night Shopping and their latest 'discovery' is this infectiously entertaining Canadian comedy, Waydowntown. It's an ambitious look at a handful of young office workers embracing eccentric behavior in a losing battle to avoid becoming Dilbert zombies.

Synopsis:

Tom (Fab Filippo) is one of a score of Calgary office workers engaged in a perverse lottery: the one who stays inside the core city's all-internal office and apartment complex the longest, wins. The contest is only 24 days old and the determined participants are already showing cracks from the strain. Tom is becoming more abusive of his workmates while Sandra (Marya Delver) is developing a complex about breathing nothing but recycled air. Curt (Gordon Currie) uses a dead mouse to make some romantic moves on another desperate office worker. And poor Brad (Don McKellar) isn't even part of the bet, but he's starting to flip out by stapling office slogans to his chest and fantasizing about jumping out a window. Tom and Sandra have the worst of it when the horrible office supervisor assigns them 'loyalty tasks' of picking up the company founder's retirement gift, and following the old man through the malls. Somebody has to follow him - he's gone senile and has turned into a hopeless kleptomaniac. On this fateful day, Tom meets a potential girlfriend but also keeps fantasizing about the city center levitating into the sky. He's also having daylight hallucinations of a caped superhero moving through the glass-walled city.

I never thought I'd evoke memories of Logan's Run in a review but the office-dwelling denizens of Waydowntown are in desperate need of psychic liberation, even though they've just begun their lives in the corporate big city. Anxious-eyed Tom is a good representative for the rest of his almost-full-status employee friends, who live in fear that they'll be adjudged worthless slackers for not passively accepting whatever indignity the office manager can heap upon them. They not only live in a glass office complex, but it is one of dozens of buildings linked to other buildings by above-ground enclosed walkways. The entire downtown section of the city is a hermetically-sealed hive of steel and glass.

Director Gary Burns and his co-writer James Martin fill the picture with clever reminders of its theme. Tom keeps a little ant farm at his cubicle and stares at its industrious inhabitants in wonder. When he walks through the mall, we're shown little glass enclosures, like the plexy "human toothpaste tubes" in This Island Earth, where human ants can retreat to legally have a smoke.

Office life has been stacked with other ironic situations and symbolic items that make their points without becoming obnoxious. Poor Brad is dubbed "Sadly I'm Bradley" and falls into a deep depression at the realization that he's spent twenty years in an undefined cubicle pool. He's collected a plastic soft-drink container full of glass marbles, the item he'll need if he's to actualize his desire to smash the office window and leap to his death.

Tom uses a dead mouse to gross-out office pest and lottery competitor Curt; Curt immediately repurposes the inert rodent to emotionally bond with a female worker with whom he wants to score. The ploy works perfectly, as both partners are eager to mingle with someone new - they're both nearing the 2-year mark in frustratingly-portracted engagements.

Tom's ant farm becomes a symbol of liberation. At one point he just opens the top and within minutes one enterprising insect has cut himself a nice green leaf and is proudly carrying it back to the nest, like a little ant Robin Hood.

But Tom's day is a wild ride. He picks up and then accidentally smashes a $3500 crystal goblet intended as a retirement gift for his boss. The man to whom they're all supposed to give homage has become a deranged sneak thief. Sandra is delighted to be promoted from lame errand girl to the unenviable duty of following the CEO around and covering his tracks as he purloins objects from all the stores in the mall. Both she and Tom are expected to be honored to give up their lunch hours to serve the man who started the company. It's only one of a hundred slights that tell the working kids that they have neither company rights nor personal dignity.

Tom is already giving himself an edge in the lottery by sneaking down to his old VW bug in the parking lot to take a few tokes of grass. His trouble compounds when he gets involved with the girlfriend of a demented flower delivery boy. He's also in the middle of a fantasy about supervillains who might threaten the entire downtown city core by lifting it into the air. Working with a limited budget, Burns and Martin create visual representations for Tom's fantasies, including the expertly-managed image of an alienated Tom 'swimming' his way down the glass corridors. He keeps fantasizing flash sightings of a brightly-colored superhero out of the corner of his eye, a motif that works exceedingly well in context.

The film has an excellent sense of humor and a heart as well. Tom and Sandra realize that they're becoming hive denizens, and Tom fears that he's losing contact with other people, particularly in his incessant mocking of Sadly I'm Bradley. Waydowntown works itself to a satisfactory resolution for both the lottery and Tom's personal adjustment problem. It's a great little picture.


Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Waydowntown is 1:78, letterboxed instead of enhanced. The show appears to be shot in a digital format and it is unclear as to whether the quality could have been improved. The picture is satisfactory but lacks the punch of higher-budgeted filmed shows. The opening titles suffer a bit from the picture quality, but they are purposely illegible anyway. John Abram's (techno? New Age?) score lends the picture just the right feel of contemporary angst. In one scene a version of the old song Downtown with French lyrics is used to pleasing effect.

A lengthy behind-the-scenes selection of raw clips shows the crew and actors at work. The main camera might be in the DV format. Waydowntown has a terrific group of core actors. Gary Burns has been making films like this for years now and it's a shame that he's not making them for a wider audience ... or perhaps that's why they are so good. There is also an arresting trailer. 1


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Waydowntown rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: behind the scenes footage, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 23, 2005


Footnote:

1. A helpful note from Carl M. Stone, March 27, 2005:
Hello Glenn, Just read your review of Waydowntown (or waydowntown, if I recall the opening credits correctly). I got to see this in 35mm back in 2002 at our local (Cleveland) film festival. Even though it filled two packed theaters and they wound up chaining the print between them, it never played theatrically after that. I'm glad to hear it's out on DVD, as that will save me the trouble of getting it on VHS from the Canadian Amazon site.

Regarding the image quality: even in 35mm it was rather muddy looking video. As I recall, one of the film's conceits was that during the "inside" sections of the film, it was in DV. Then when it went outside, it would switch to film. I recall a scene where a character makes it outside and it switched to film. Then as she realizes she's just breathing in car exhaust and other outdoor pollution, it switches back to video. It sounds like that aspect of the film might not have made it onto this disc. Carl M. Stone
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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