starring Josh Kornbluth, Amy Resnick, June Lomena, Helen Shumaker
screenplay by Jacob Kornbluth & John Belluci & Josh Kornbluth
directed by Jacob & Joshua Kornbluth
by Walter Chaw Featuring the kind of humour made popular by those irritating sports improvisation dinner-theatre troupes, Haiku Tunnel opens inauspiciously: Josh Kornbluth (who co-directed with his brother and plays himself) stands in front of a chalkboard introducing the film as a made-up work set in the fictional town of...erm..."San Franclisco." His over-emoting and burlesque eye-rolling soon betray the fact that Haiku Tunnel began life as a series of stand-up monologues Kornbluth performed to small but appreciative venues in San Francisco. (Urban legends abound of entire secretarial pools going to his shows en masse and adopting catchphrases for inspirational memos.) Clearly a creature of the stage, Kornbluth's mugging and brother Jacob and John Bellucci's aside-laden script translate uneasily to the screen, aspiring to a kind of Woody Allen-esque fourth-wall breaking but only succeeding in being mildly embarrassing. Still, Josh Kornbluth's engaging warmth and egoless sense of humour portends a destiny for Haiku Tunnel as a cult classic and good things for the future of the fraternal auteurs behind it.
A professional temporary worker, Josh Kornbluth is offered a "perm" position at a law firm early in the film. Having recently experienced the "unbearable lightness of temping," a Zen-like loss of the self as a result of not having any professional or personal responsibilities whatsoever, Josh decides to walk the plank and settle down in a stable occupation as lawyer Bob Shelby's (Warren Keith) personal assistant. The responsibility makes Josh short-circuit, and 17 "very important" letters fail to get mailed for an entire week. Haiku Tunnel is basically about how Josh's brain prevents him from mailing the letters and how his rapidly escalating stress impacts his co-workers and superiors.
Kornbluth resembles a live-action Jay Sherman, the insecure nebbish of a film critic voiced by Jon Lovitz on the late, lamented cartoon "The Critic". Like Sherman, Josh is beset with neurosis, wounded by his failures with women and haunted by a resigned sort of fatalism that seems a self-fulfilling prophecy. What works well at a breezy, dialogue dense and slapstick 30 minutes, however, begins to grate at an extended 90. And though Haiku Tunnel has lampoonery aimed true (my favourite being the blast of cold air accompanying every appearance of head secretary Marlina (Helen Shumaker)), the lingering feeling is one of mild desperation and self-consciousness.
The office-as-banal-inferno is a deep vein aching to be mined with more consistency than Office Space and more venom than Clockwatchers. Though the dedicatedly good-natured Haiku Tunnel scores some solid points now and again with the sharp jab at the hidden usefulness of Dictaphones and the strange affection office workers develop for their beds (and for certain brands of smooth-writing pens), it's ultimately just a little too ingratiating. Haiku Tunnel works too hard--imagine a Spalding Gray monologue fractured and stretched into a conventional film format--and is more vaudeville than social critique, thus it lacks the edge and clarity essential to satires and comedies alike. But the film is consistently pleasant and diverting, and I look forward with keen interest to the Brothers Kornbluth's second feature, The Best Thief in the World.