In Lee Kirk’s indie film The Giant Mechanical Man, two lost individuals find that they are not as alone or hopeless as they think they are. Janice (Jenna Fischer) can’t hold down her temp jobs and Tim (Chris Messina) spends his days as a thankless street performer; a silver painted, dry-wall stilt wearing 9 foot “mechanical man“. When nothing is going right, their paths cross and they prove to be the only one who truly understands the other, especially when the world thinks they’re both nuts.
Sure, details aside, this has the set up of many films (indie or otherwise) you’ve seen before: quirky character A meets quirky character B, romance ensues, roll credits. Yet one of the key differences here, The Giant Mechanical Man doesn’t overly indulge in Tim and Janice’s hardships or employ cutesy or self-indulgent songs to bridge sequences. It cuts to the chase and tries to get us to relate to being either jobless or loveless without being overly dramatic, theatrical or, thankfully, depressing. Even when everything and everyone seems to be of no help to Tim and Janice or considerate to their goals/feelings Kirk shows the genuine human side of each character in a refreshing way.
Not some stereotypical ad exec in NY, Fischer’s Janice is a timid but delightful character whose warmth shines through both her own personal problems and Detroit’s harsh winter. Messina’s Tim has a roll-with-the-punches demeanor who keeps his passion even if at the end of the day he looks simply downtrodden. Together they make you want the best for both these characters. Along for the ride are the unsupportive sister (Malin Akerman) and a self-help guru (Topher Grace) who, like a mix between Chris Angel and Brendan Fraser’s Encino Man, is odd-ball enough to make Tim’s character seem normal by comparison. Also Tim’s ex-girlfriend (Lucy Punch) who, points to Kirk, is kept from becoming a true villain but still acts as a catalyst to advance the story.
Kirk’s film has an almost anti-Hollywood feel to it. It doesn’t try too hard to be smart like Little Miss Sunshine or be pompously self-aware like Juno. The Giant Mechanical Man is its own film. Yet while those above mentioned films maybe a little more fun and commercially appealing, Kirk’s efforts show a story we don’t get too often. Further, the conversations, though awkward or uncomfortable at times, comes across how people would talk when they’re not confident or reading from a script, which again speaks to the realism of the story. It’s not a certainty things will work out for either of them in the end. Similar in feel to Phil Morrison’s Junebug we see real unglamorous people, dealing with events that you can’t predict just because you’ve seen other films like it.
The Giant Mechanical Man has indie written all over it replete with odd-ball/down-on-their-luck characters. To some it may seem like the film doesn’t get off the ground but that’s true to life. Major life events don’t change in the course of 90 minutes, it takes a lot longer than that with a job, love, or whatever else you have your heart set on. In the end, Kirk’s film feels real and stays, mostly, free of a forced Hollywood ending. It doesn’t have to be sunshine and puppies to be a story worth watching or caring about, sometimes it can simply be grape juice and apple pie. Moreover Janice and Tim’s story shows us that we don’t have to have everything figured out before we move forward. Sometimes, at the very least, it’s enough just to have one person in this world to who makes us feel special and valid. After that all the rest is just details.