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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Haiku Tunnel
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing in Santa Cruz at the Nick, first-time directing team Josh and Jacob Kornbluth’s Haiku Tunnel, starring Josh as Josh, is riotously funny, gentle, smart and pointed in its critical look at the world of temping and the world of high-powered attorneys in San Francisco.  Based on a monologue Josh wrote, and thus mostly held together by voiceover, the story nevertheless succeeds beautifully as a full-fledged movie with some fine characters and a decent story.

Josh is one of those folks who might be called a slacker, only he’s a bit too refined.  He’s on a quest to stay “temp” in all aspects of his life after he loses his improbably beautiful and physically fit mountain-biking live-in girlfriend.  Most of the story centers on a gig at a firm called Schuyler and Mitchell; the head secretary Marlina, magnificently acted by Helen Shumaker, ominously welcomes him to S & M.  He gets so much done on the first day that the attorney, “Bob” (in scare-quotes) Shelby (acted by Coen brothers’ bit player Warren Keith), asks him to go “perm” and the other secretaries befriend him.  That’s when, of course, things start to go wrong.

The title comes from a flashback to a memory of Josh’s perfect temp job in the middle of the movie:  an Engineering firm is working on the specs for a tunnel to be constructed through a mountain in Hawaii.  Josh finds that he’s allowed to wear his walkman, work on his novel, and complete only one big task instead of having to do a million little things.  His boss doesn’t care what his hours are or when he takes breaks.  Predictably, though, he ends up feeling strangely depressed.

In fact, the movie tells the story of Josh’s socialization:  he goes from temp to perm; he makes friends with his co-workers; has an unexpected tryst with a lawyer under false pretences but later comes clean; and finally, at last, he gets a job done.  Ok, the story had to have a progression and a telos, but what disappointed me a little was that it had to be the same old moral tale about achieving maturity through permanent work. 

The movie also tells a lot of very funny insider jokes about working life in San Francisco, from the varieties of music on the walkmen of workers to the colorful clothes and quirky people, to the final joke about the seemingly scary high-powered attorney, Bob, whose motto: “go back to your desk; calm down; focus; catch up!” comes complete with gestures, like a cheer.

It’s hard to recap, detail by detail, what’s so wonderful about Haiku Tunnel, except to say that it makes you laugh—and sympathetically—from beginning to end.  The script is great, the actors—many of them local and first-timers—really good, and the music is priceless.  At 90 or so minutes with a modest budget, this is a fabulous accomplishment.

Go see Haiku Tunnel—especially if you’ve ever been a temp.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Feccero 2001