Fired!, written and produced by its star, Annabelle Gurwitch, originated when Woody Allen dismissed her from a production of one of his plays. That painful axing eventually prompted Gurwitch to start staging her own plays, consisting of first-hand testimonies from others who'd been fired; she subsequently published a book of these accounts. Yet one suspects that this sometimes very funny documentary must be the most interesting and entertaining of her various sojourns among the axed--even though the camera is less forgiving than the stage or the page. But that's only fair, as Gurwitch herself is plainly not the forgiving type: Her traumatic dismissal is re-created with an uncredited Woody Allen impersonator, disemboweling the stricken actress with such admittedly hilarious slashes as "I'm depressed and I'm feeling nauseous," "You look retarded," "My hearing is impacted," and best of all, "Don't ever do that again--not even in somebody else's play."
That Gurwitch believes herself to have been dealt with badly is made perfectly clear throughout Fired! Nevertheless, the more you see of her in this film, the easier you can understand why Woody Allen fired her. When she interviews people, whether entertainers or civilians, she's too often pulling faces or cracking wise rather than listening to what's being said and letting people and things be what they are.
Although Fired! is a minor documentary as a vehicle for Gurwitch's talents, the film generates real interest in its range of testimonies from the legions of the Canned, Cancelled, Downsized and Dismissed (to quote the subtitle of her book). Tastiest are the stories from Gurwitch's peers, most notably Illeana Douglas (fired after four hours on the job as a coat-checker), Andy Borowitz (sacked as a writer on the '80s sitcom "The Facts Of Life" because he "didn't get Tootie"), and Tate Donovan (whose dismissal from the film Torch Song Trilogy is re-enacted with hand puppets). Least impressive is an insufferable and unfunny Andy Dick.
Although Fired! starts as a mock Woody Allen film (black-and-white NYC vistas, Gershwin a-playin', Windsor-font titles), the filmmaker who has had a greater influence on Gurwitch and her directors Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache is Michael Moore. That's all to the good--had the film ignored the deeper sociological and economic effects of job-loss around the country, it would have come off as mostly schadenfreude. Instead, Fired! stares right into the abyss of corporate evil: Bruce Cameron shamelessly recalls his days as a human-resources director, squealing to management and getting the discontented sacked; Anita Epilito, discharged for refusing to be tested for off-the-job tobacco use, is shown teaming with Virg Bernero (the future mayor of Lansing, Michigan) to promote the Employee Privacy Protection Act. There are also the dreadful recent layoff statistics nationwide, including Ford firing 30,000 workers; Delphi, 18,000; Hewlett Packard, 14,000. Two economists, conservative and liberal, provide insightful final comments. Ben Stein, a former Nixon speechwriter, gives a stinging denunciation of CEOs who can their employees and let their businesses fail so they can walk off with millions of dollars in stock. Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, eloquently reminds viewers, "We're not in a jungle, it's not every man for himself"; economic growth has to benefit everyone, and a well-functioning government is responsible for insuring higher living standards for more people--and then Reich smoothly plays a scene in which he works on Gurwitch to find a job for his actor nephew!