Chris Smith's feature debut is so minimalist it threatens to evaporate before one's eyes. The bleak tragicomedy, filmed on 16mm, still fulfills its task of capturing the sheer drudgery of entry-level, minimum-wage labor.
Randy Scott (Randy Russell), is an unimposing, somewhat gawky guy from Sandusky, Ohio, who started out housekeeping at an amusement-park hotel (later "promoted" to the guess-your-weight booth) and now bounces from one job to another. He reports for an assignment pushing a button on a rattletrap
injection-molder at a plastics factory; it's only 10 seconds of activity during a 40-second automated cycle, and a bored, inattentive Randy soon lets the machine jam. Fired, he next cooks and cleans the fryers and bathrooms at a fast-food chicken franchise. ("It's a tough job, but from what I
hear, you'll be up to it," says the manager.) Though he promises to stay at least six months, Randy is only on duty three days; when a fellow worker disdainfully describes the night warehouse position he just quit, Randy rushes across town to take it while there's still an opportunity. The
third-shift warehouse detail of pointless, incomprehensible chores is only temporary, but Randy has some rapport with the oddball night crew. They imagine winning a huge lottery jackpot and quitting work forever, while Randy thinks lotteries are for dreamers and no-hopers.
The next job finds Randy cleaning rooms at a motel--not much different from the way he started in Sandusky. Finally, he joins a team of telemarketers, coached to read a scripted sales pitch as they sit in sterile cubicles and try to peddle financial services over the phone. This, evidently, is
rock bottom, because Randy's subsequent stop is a convenience store--where he purchases a lottery ticket.
It's a minor payoff after 90 mundane minutes, and one wonders whether filmmaker Smith couldn't have made his points in a short-subject format. Despite its drawbacks--and, actually, because of them--AMERICAN JOB succeeds in recording with security-camera versimilitude the vast segment of society
which trudges off to dead-end and deadening subsistence employment. Such characters barely exist in mainstream movie escapism, and no wonder, although it's a bit generous to call Randy Scott (nicknamed "American Worker" in the film's credits) a "character." Bleached of charisma and outside
interests (except for vague literary ambitions), he's a sad schlub defined only by low-key desperation as he searches for a better job. The movie's support staff comes across as better defined, if equally damaged individuals, from the factory guy eternally nursing an invention idea (which he
refuses to divulge), to the silver-tongued telemarketing guru, to a brother short-order cook who informs Randy how to rip off the cash register (about $3.80 at a time) to supplement their meager income. The vast majority of AMERICAN JOB cast members are, in fact, managers and workers more or less
playing themselves. The plastics factory sequence is an incident straight out of Chris Smith's life, while Sandusky native Randy Russell has made a sort of career out of having no career. Russell (who studied photography and film at Ohio and Kent State Universities) chronicled 20 years of
minimum-wage employment in essays for his self-published 'zine, also entitled "American Job." Russell's experiences and outlook inspired Smith, an Iowa State University art graduate. With borrowed college film- department equipment and a $14,000 budget, they shot AMERICAN JOB over a two-year
period in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Smith later estimated that in wage terms, making the feature was the equivalent of losing $3 an hour. AMERICAN JOB played the film-festival circuit and won a slot in the FUEL Film Tour, a sort of traveling platform of underground and alternative features that
toured major cities in 1997. Fortunately for Randy Russell, his then-employers (a legal firm in Portland, Oregon) gave him a month's leave to accompany the show. Or so he claimed. (Profanity, substance abuse.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Chris Smith's feature debut is so minimalist it threatens to evaporate before one's eyes. The bleak tragicomedy, filmed on 16mm, still fulfills its task of capturing the sheer drudgery of entry-level, minimum-wage labor. Randy Scott (Randy Russell), is an… (more)