' ' Cinema Romantico: Buzzard

Monday, July 06, 2015


“Buzzard” is like a modern update of Mike Judge’s cult classic white collar satire “Office Space”, though more idiosyncratically hilarious than dry and much more disturbing. In the latter film “doing nothing” was seen as the ideal; in the former “doing nothing” is the lifestyle. And while “Office Space” might have been bleak, it still managed to carve out a happy ending, believing a kind of untraditional circumvention of a cubicle farm life could still yield solitude, whereas “Buzzard” simply descends into misanthropic madness. Here, the white collar renders nihilism.

As a temp at First Financial Bank, Marty Jackistanski (Joshua Burge) spends less time actually working than working to screw over the company for whom he temps. An early scene unfolding in one long take finds him visiting a First Financial Branch where he closes his checking account and then immediately re-opens it as a means to score the $50 being offered for new business. When asked by the personal banker where he works, Marty replies: “First Financial Bank.” If this was it, his character might be some sort of low wage hero, an exemplar of the peon sticking it to the man. He operates less from a moral code, however, than a wily self-centeredness. In conversations by phone with his mom, who forgets his birthday (“It’s ok, I forget it every year too”), he claims to have all sorts of friends. Really, he has none, unless you count co-worker Derek (Potrykus), whom Marty uses and abuses, stealing the sycophant’s Hot Pockets and even occasionally beating him up.

There are no real attempts to imbue Marty with empathy, and yet he engenders a pittance of it anyway because, as Jerry Seinfeld once observed of his own show’s characters, “There's nothing really likable about them except that they remind you of yourself.” And if we’re not all just like Marty, most of us have, at one time or another, been a cog in this commerce machine, burned out, disenfranchised, perhaps allowing ourselves to daydream about snapping. We don’t, of course, but Marty does, and that allows our daydream to come true. And to frighteningly realize that it’s a thin line between cog and crack-up.

That crack-up happens after Marty, taking his scams too far, steals a batch of refund checks for minimal amounts from the office and signs them over to himself. His ruse exposed, he goes underground, and as he goes underground, he disappears more and more into an alternate reality. This reality manifests itself in his lo-fi invention: a Nintendo glove re-purposed as a Freddy Krueger glove, the villain of “Nightmare on Elm Street” who apparently exists as Marty’s idol. This odd fixation, however, is crucial, not tangential, especially considering that Krueger only appeared to his hapless foils in those endless spates of films in their dreams. In the real world, his powers were useless. Indeed, in Marty's own mind, he fancies himself both repressed by the whole world and unassailable for the ways in which he lashes out at this supposed repression. It’s why in the third act, when he winds up in Detroit with no plan and incapable of thinking ahead, the film feels scarily alive, like anything could happen.

Many reviewers have compared lead actor Joshua Burge to Buster Keaton, and indeed, the hangdog face is as similar as the impeccable comic timing. The attitude between the two men, however, differs in a crucial way. If Keaton’s characters were often flummoxed by the world, they still typically possessed an unswerving faith in it. Burge’s Marty, on the other hand, is both flummoxed by the world and so apathetic toward it as to feel that it owes him.

Late in the film, while on the run, Marty checks into a luxury hotel, apparently unbothered by blowing whatever little money he has, and then ordering a plate of room service spaghetti. An incredible unbroken shot ensues, wherein we watch as Marty imbibes the entire meal. It’s gluttonous; it’s also apropos. It’s a man who’s made a complete mess of his life, yet remains richly self-satisfied. No matter what he does, he can do no wrong. What could be more terrifying?


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm a HUGE fan of Office Space (one of the best comedies of the 90's) so I'm cautiously curious about this one. I'll have to check it out.

Derek Armstrong said...

This movie sat imperfectly with me, but as usual you've given me lots to think about with your review.