Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Men at Lunch

Few mysteries are answered to a certainty in this sometimes charming, sometimes eye-rolling doc.

Sept 19, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385528-Men_Lunch_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A charming 45-minute PBS doc swallowed up by a feature-length production that's as sure of its subject's magnificence as Mr. Rockefeller was about his eponymous Center, Seán Ó Cualáin's Men at Lunch goes so far at one point as to claim that the famous photograph it chronicles—of 11 steelworkers taking a lunch break on a girder—represents "the city's greatest legend." Small-screen audiences will find much to enjoy in the film, but it'll be a tough sell theatrically.

Viewers puzzled that the film exists at all will note that this work of Americana nostalgia was produced with support from the Irish Film Board and relies on more than its share of Irish-speaking interviewees. Only in the last half-hour do we understand why: Two elderly cousins in Shanaglish, Ireland have convinced many that their fathers are two of the long-anonymous men in the photo.

They make a convincing case, but the film begins to feel like propaganda for Shanaglish when it wistfully notes, near the end, "all but two of the men remain anonymous"—a strange assertion, considering that just half an hour earlier we see a Rockefeller Center archivist identifying three of the others based on their presence in another photo.

Whatever the number of mystery men, Lunch is at least sure of the photo's cultural impact: The tourists who flock to Top of the Rock are doing so to celebrate those men, we're told; the image captures this era of New York "like no other."

Cartoonish hyperbole aside, the investigation does have its high points: We get to hang out with that archivist, seeing other truly delightful shots of casually death-defying construction workers—and images of the daring photographers who shot them, who perched in their wing-tips in poses more precarious than their subjects'. And we venture into the Corbis image archives, protected deep inside a mountain, to look at what may be the photo's original glass negative. Strike that: When a Corbis employee takes off his loupe and says "looks like it to me," our narrator declares "we can be absolutely sure" it's the original.

The good stuff is accompanied by lots of fine but thoroughly unnecessary history lessons which eventually conclude that New York is a city of immigrants. The movie's biggest wrong turn is to carry its history all the way to 9/11, lingering for long minutes on that day's horrific images. These were presumably included so Lunch could focus on a crew of contemporary ironworkers, currently building the Twin Towers' replacement. But One World Trade Center is hardly the only building under construction in Manhattan, and certainly isn't the closest to being an heir to the daring aesthetics that made the city's Art Deco masterworks iconic.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: Men at Lunch

Few mysteries are answered to a certainty in this sometimes charming, sometimes eye-rolling doc.

Sept 19, 2013

-By John DeFore


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385528-Men_Lunch_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A charming 45-minute PBS doc swallowed up by a feature-length production that's as sure of its subject's magnificence as Mr. Rockefeller was about his eponymous Center, Seán Ó Cualáin's Men at Lunch goes so far at one point as to claim that the famous photograph it chronicles—of 11 steelworkers taking a lunch break on a girder—represents "the city's greatest legend." Small-screen audiences will find much to enjoy in the film, but it'll be a tough sell theatrically.

Viewers puzzled that the film exists at all will note that this work of Americana nostalgia was produced with support from the Irish Film Board and relies on more than its share of Irish-speaking interviewees. Only in the last half-hour do we understand why: Two elderly cousins in Shanaglish, Ireland have convinced many that their fathers are two of the long-anonymous men in the photo.

They make a convincing case, but the film begins to feel like propaganda for Shanaglish when it wistfully notes, near the end, "all but two of the men remain anonymous"—a strange assertion, considering that just half an hour earlier we see a Rockefeller Center archivist identifying three of the others based on their presence in another photo.

Whatever the number of mystery men, Lunch is at least sure of the photo's cultural impact: The tourists who flock to Top of the Rock are doing so to celebrate those men, we're told; the image captures this era of New York "like no other."

Cartoonish hyperbole aside, the investigation does have its high points: We get to hang out with that archivist, seeing other truly delightful shots of casually death-defying construction workers—and images of the daring photographers who shot them, who perched in their wing-tips in poses more precarious than their subjects'. And we venture into the Corbis image archives, protected deep inside a mountain, to look at what may be the photo's original glass negative. Strike that: When a Corbis employee takes off his loupe and says "looks like it to me," our narrator declares "we can be absolutely sure" it's the original.

The good stuff is accompanied by lots of fine but thoroughly unnecessary history lessons which eventually conclude that New York is a city of immigrants. The movie's biggest wrong turn is to carry its history all the way to 9/11, lingering for long minutes on that day's horrific images. These were presumably included so Lunch could focus on a crew of contemporary ironworkers, currently building the Twin Towers' replacement. But One World Trade Center is hardly the only building under construction in Manhattan, and certainly isn't the closest to being an heir to the daring aesthetics that made the city's Art Deco masterworks iconic.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

War Story
Film Review: War Story

Infuriatingly slow, enervating and basically empty contemplation of war's impact, and a waste of the formidable talent of a gallant Catherine Keener. More »

Happy Christmas
Film Review: Happy Christmas

Joe Swanberg's latest feature is a collection of strong individual scenes and performances that never quite finds its statement of purpose. More »

Very Good Girls
Film Review: Very Good Girls

More of a meandering, misguided path than a road to hell, Naomi Foner’s directing debut, starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as 18-year-old BFFs, is similarly filled with good intentions. More »

The Kill Team
Film Review: The Kill Team

Marine Adam Winfield goes on trial in a case in which U.S. soldiers murdered innocent Afghanis. Strong subject marred by poor narrative choices. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Get On Up
Film Review: Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman is sensational in this multi-faceted portrait of troubled, pioneering soul-music giant James Brown. More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review
Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

With Marvel’s backing, cult filmmaker James Gunn blasts off for the stars and takes audiences along for a wild, funny ride. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here