The greeting card writers in Girlfriend’s Day sit in a grey box of an office, their empty desks facing a neglected white board and reflecting the dull glow of fluorescent lights. The characters mirror their environment – humorless, disinterested, blank. A commentary on the greeting card industry perhaps, or changing personal communication habits, or a writer’s life? I doubt any of these. This brisk Netflix production, written and produced by star Bob Odenkirk, is the kind of quirk we’re used to seeing from the streaming site, but it’s the kind that falls on the wrong side of the experimental line.
There’s dry humor aplenty. Ray (Odenkirk) is a washed up card writer who speaks in pithy, easily illustratable one liners. Once honored for writing the top-selling Valentine’s Day card three years in a row, he now finds himself being let go from his company and chooses to drown his sorrows at the local bar, the one where all the other card writers congregate. He’s also reduced to watching bum fights, that is homeless people beating each other up and not a category of porn. Adding to his increasingly desperate situation is the reoccurring vision of his ex-wife being screwed by a giant owl. He can’t get past this, and I can’t get past their shared custody of the cat.
I also can’t get past the fact that this 70 minute film is a chore to get through, a genre-defying piece that is both beautifully odd and utterly senseless. Ray’s at his lowest, babysitting his landlord’s nephew in lieu of rent, when the governor declares a new holiday and gives him a chance to restart his career. Girlfriend’s Day will kick off with a contest for the most romantic greeting card, and conveniently, only non-professionals and unemployed writers are allowed to enter. That’s a straightforward plot, you think, with plenty of possibilities but nowhere does murder appear on that list.
Someone gets killed on the card factory floor and suddenly Ray’s chasing down the killer, trying to avoid being killed, and/or suspected of doing the killing. I have in my notes that Taft is the character who died, “killed to death,” remarks someone. But not two hours later, I can’t remember who he is and why he matters. Ray also meets his fangirl turned love interest, played by Amber Tamblyn, who is just slightly more memorable than the mysterious Taft.
The film takes pains to present itself as an eccentric neo-noir; every scene is meticulously shaped and carved, and visually, the results are striking. Ray’s L.A. is bleak and he’s often overwhelmed by his surroundings – the dystopian card factory, the barren, Wild West streets, even his ex-wife’s stark mod abode. But the deliberation also slows the narrative, so much so that elements fall off entirely. After three aborted attempts, I was finally able to plow through this molasses. Ray’s depressed ennui infects the whole project and, though Odenkirk’s wry humor occasionally breaks through, keeps the mystery from ever gaining life or momentum.
Prod: Bob Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero, M. Elizabeth Hughes, Bryan DeGuire
Dir: Michael Stephenson
Writer: Bob Odenkirk, Philip Zlotorynski, Eric Von Hoffman
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Amber Tamblyn, Rich Sommer, Toby Huss, David Sullivan, Stacy Keach, Andy Richter, Natasha Lyonne
Time: 70 min
Country: United States