You know the feeling; you’re scanning through the endless titles on a streaming service, you’ve been burned before, taking a risk on an unknown Netflix original film. Will it be as ridiculous as Bright? Or good, like, um… I’m sure there was a good Netflix original film we all liked, right? Just can’t think of anything right now is all… Off the top of my head… They’re there though. Surely. Aren’t they? Surely. Sure they are.
Anyway, I hadn’t really heard anything about Michael Paul Stephenson’s Netflix Original debut film Girlfriend’s Day, when I decided to give it a chance, sealing fate with a click on my Apple TV remote.
Fifteen minutes in, and I felt like I was watching a fan-made episode of Better Call Saul. Now, we all love Vince Gilligan’s characteristic stark, sombre directing, balancing the mundane slice-of-life realism with moments of intense drama, and Girlfriend’s Day sets up this contemporary aesthetic from the outset. But the impact of this film was somehow unconvincing at first; a little flat, and the mundane subject matter just wasn’t carrying its own weight.
As always it was enjoyable to watch Bob Odenkirk squirm his way through his scenes like a hungry rodent. Then something happened at about the seventeen-minute mark – I started chuckling.
Hold that, rewind a bit, because I forgot to mention at the start of this film, an oddly familiar voiceover began – I said to myself out loud ‘Is that David Lynch?’. I had to confirm later by googling, that the director had indeed made a rather random cameo as voice actor for the intro narration. So that was a quirky surprise, and this movie turned out to have a few comedic tricks up its sleeve.
Odenkirk plays Ray, a master writer (of inserts for Valentine’s day cards) who is fired by his boss in a fairly cliché opening. Your classic down-and-out tale, Odenkirk is forced to find another means to foot the rent. We discover that Ray has been divorced by his ex-wife, who left him for a cartoonist known for drawing the character ‘Optimistic Owl’. It’s around this time when the left-field comedy starts to enter.
The film turns completely in another direction and becomes utterly farcical, when the mayor declares that he is going to begin a new holiday called ‘Girlfriend’s Day’, and will front up prize money for the best entry in creating a greeting card for the new holiday. Still thinking the film was serious, this felt like the sort of contrite formula setup you might’ve seen on an episode of Saved by the Bell or <INSERT WORST AMERICAN SITCOM HERE>.
However it soon becomes clear that the film is a parody of many things, but mostly a kind of ironic Noir story. The setup is that soon other famous card message writers start getting knocked off, one by one, and Ray suspects they are being killed because someone is trying to win the Mayor’s competition.
It sounds absurd (and it is), but this film will actually leave you smiling by the end of it. I can almost… Guarantee it. No I can’t. Some will like this movie, and appreciate its weirdness and many won’t.
Michael Paul Stephenson, who is primarily known for being the little kid in 1990’s Troll 2 (arguably one of the worst, and thus most hilarious movies ever made) really proves himself, if not as a brilliant director, then certainly a competent satirist here.
It’s hard to accurately convey the subtle humour, but there is a refreshing energy in the film from about the quarter-way mark, as Ray meets a new girlfriend, Jill, played by Amber Tamblyn. Ray is pleasantly surprised by her mirroring sentiments; ‘I hate optimistic people. They bum me out with their attitude’.
Other jokes littered throughout, surrounding the history of the card industry add laughs. Did you know that the first card ever given, was given by, Napoleon? Who gave it to his mother after she got sick; it read ‘feel better’, and she died shortly after receiving it, we are informed.
And if you’re still thinking it’s ridiculous that people would commit murder over greeting cards, the arch villain of the film puts us all in our place; ‘What do you know about holidays? Holidays were born in blood. Birthday’s are the celebration of the blood from a woman’s uterus, Christmas is about the crucifixion of Jesus’.
This movie is probably not for everyone; you have to be in the right mood to appreciate the irony. But if you’re going to take a risk on a Netflix Original film, you may just get something out of this light-hearted send-up of formulaic plots.
In the scene outside of the school, one of the characters uses the phrase “follow the money” defending himself by saying he “saw it in a movie once”. This comes from the 1976 film “All the President’s men” about reporters who broke the Watergate scandal.