What is one to make of a movie that began its existence as a stand-up comedy routine? Is it a movie or is it shtick? Is it worth the price of a ticket at the cineplex to see someone doing the kind of act that's available for free on the comedy channel?
The answer to the last question is a maybe. For those of us who've not been able to catch Josh Kornbluth's ever-evolving one-man stage show titled Haiku Tunnel, which has been appearing at various venues throughout the country for the last ten years, this movie version--with the same crazy title--might provoke a startled 'say what?' Here's this unknown actor named Josh, a strangely sweet-faced guy whose balding pate is set off by long locks of scraggly hair, playing a character named Josh--who begins the movie by talking directly to us, telling us about the silly vicissitudes of his job as a temporary office worker. As if we'd care.
In fairness, many of Josh's observations are hilarious, in a gentle sort of way, especially for those who've spent time in the lower depths of a corporate environment. The real life Josh Kornbluth and his younger brother Jacob, both of San Francisco and both veteran 'temps,' co-wrote (with John Belucci) the screenplay adapted from Josh's monologue, and they also decided to co-direct this, their first feature film. To fill the roles of Josh's eccentric co-workers, the Kornbluths chose a cast of fine actors (all from the Bay Area), and set about rehearsing and improvising, 'allowing the characters and scenes to develop organically,' according to the publicity material describing the genesis of Haiku Tunnel, the movie.
Further, the press notes note, after San Francisco entrepreneur David Fuchs gave the Kornbluth Brothers the money they needed to start making their film, everything 'just kept snowballing.' Vendors donated office space and equipment, 'fantastically talented crewpeople' lent their time and skills, and 'arts-friendly locals opened their homes and businesses as shooting locations.' All these people were 'united by a belief that the Kornbluths were determined to make an honest, smart, truly independent film.'
And so they have. However, the story relating how Haiku Tunnel got made is a lot more interesting than the story told in the movie. Josh is an aspiring novelist, totally adrift in life, who makes ends meet by taking assignments as a temporary office worker. On his first day at the law firm of Schuyler & Mitchell (S&M), Josh is so intimidated by his boss, Bob Shelby (Warren Keith), he becomes a model of efficiency and hard work. Impressed, the stern-faced office manager, Marlina D'Amore (Helen Shumaker), asks Josh if he 'wants to go perm.' Reacting negatively to this daunting prospect, Josh spends the rest of the week screwing up--somehow failing to send out 17 very important letters. But Josh's friendly fellow workers (Amy Resnick, Brian Thorstenson and June Lomena) rally round to help save his job and convince him that going 'perm' need not be the end of his world.
Plot, of course, is not all that essential to Haiku Tunnel. But it is essential that Josh Kornbluth should at least try to make the viewers of his movie feel like they're watching a movie--not a monologue. In this, he's only partly successful. There are far too many stretches where Josh is simply carried away with being Josh, and we are not particularly amused. Still, some bits are inspired. Two examples: Josh's middle-of-the-night calls to the stern office manager's office phone, when he fills her voice mail with tender entreaties and silly psychobabble, and the scene in which Josh's boss, Bob, speaking slowly and clearly, tells him how to become a happy, successful employee. 'Settle down. Focus. Catch up.'
Incidently, the title refers to a temp project Josh had once worked on, typing up construction plans for a tunnel to be built from Haiku to some other city in Japan. Guess you had to be there.