Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sundance with Abe: The Last Shift

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

The Last Shift
Directed by Andrew Cohn

There are people who aren’t seen by society, ignored or taken for granted when they do so much for others. Their fate in life isn’t their own fault, but, despite what they try, they can’t do much to change it. Those individuals, perceived as incapable or unintelligent or unmotivated, deserve to be seen on the big screen in stories that showcase them as human beings. That said, an overarching theme and purpose also needs to exist, since a strong character doesn’t always translate to a good story and worthwhile film.

Stanley (Richard Jenkins) has worked at the same fast food restaurant on the graveyard shift for thirty-eight years. Now, he has a plan to drive down to Florida and move his elderly mother in with him. Before he does that, however, he has to train his replacement: Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie). Freshly out of prison and coping with a young child who is living with his mother under Jevon’s parents’ roof, he knows that he needs to hold down a job after several false starts at other establishments. The two men couldn’t be more different, but they have plenty of time to get to know each other as they fill the time between customers during a few overnight shifts.

The concept of a “last” anything is very common in films, with detectives on their final cases all but certain to meet a gruesome death as they show the rookies how it’s done, for example. This film’s angle is to really see Stanley, who is pleasant and polite to all the customers who make fun of him and who know that he hasn’t gone anywhere in the past four decades while life has kept moving around him. Jevon is smart and understands his situation, but he also can’t see the value in putting in an effort when not doing so earns him the same paycheck. People like Stanley and Jevon are real, and there’s a value to them being featured as main characters.

Where this film falters is in its true purpose. Stanley judges Jevon for what he perceives as laziness, and lashes out at him for, as he says, “playing the race card” to explain how he ended up in his situation. Tackling issues of systemic racism is not something this film is well-suited to do, and instead it navigates a questionable third act that works against the ideas this film is trying to express earlier on in its plot. Jenkins and McGhie are good, but this film wanders away from an emphatic conclusion that could have validated everything leading up to it.


No comments: