Cast: Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus
Director: Joel Potrykus
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
We learn all we need to know about Marty Jackitansky, the power glove-loving slacker who works for a dreary Michigan Bank Mortgage department during the opening scene of writer-director Joel Potrykus' great new film Buzzard. Shot in one long unbroken take dealing with closing and opening a new checking account, the look on Marty's face; a mixture of detached cynicism and unbridled disdain, is a brilliant bit of character exposition. A more pedestrian film would have built up to such a moment, but Potrykus zeroes in on his main protagonists' sardonically unhinged worldview right from the start, a decision that pays great dividends in a movie that's both uproariously funny and caustically disturbing. In a way, Buzzard often plays like Mike Judge's cult hit Office Space had Ron Livingston's slacker been stripped of all his self-deprecating charm. We are inclined to root for Marty; the wandering misfit railing against the system, but Potrykus complicates things by removing the romanticism often applied to such characters, creating a vision of middle-class America where youth is literally wasting away.
Joshua Burge's performance as Marty is crucial to extrapolating Potrykus' satirical aims here. His greasy hair, bulging eyes, and nebbish demeanor suggests a rather harmless gutter-punk, but look closer and one can clearly glimpse a paranoid shiftiness that hints at if not mental illness, then at least extreme social maladjustment. We may be laughing at his pathetic scams for skimming $20-$50 here and there, but nothing about such scenarios is humorous to Marty, who remains poker-faced throughout. This sense of mirthlessness makes the character off-putting, but it also means that when the laughs dissipate during the film's last stretch, a feeling of overbearing sadness takes over. Burge does so much with so little, creating a wholly unique personality that transcends it's archetypical connotations, that when the film morphs from cubicle satire into a on-the-lam odyssey, we are just as surprised as Marty at the predicament he finds himself in.
From the outset, Marty goes about his meaningless existence as a temp worker; taking three-hour breaks, running pithy bank check scams, and buying expensive office supplies through his work only to return them to a local store for cash. All the while, his jovial co-worker Derek (Potrykus) pokes and prods at his anti-social tendencies with an idiotic glee that eventually transfers to them hanging out together in his basement, dubbed "The Party Room." These scenes, including one of the best visual gags in recent memory involving a treadmill, are delivered with a kind of off-the-cuff deadpan humor that revel in the ordinary travails of being young and poor in middle America. Copious amounts of Mountain Dew are consumed. Pizza and Hot Pockets are scarfed down. Video games are played with supreme intensity. An NES power glove is refashioned with Freddy Krueger claws. Running out of options due to a scam gone awry, Marty eventually goes on the run in Detroit, which leads the picture into more sociologically interesting territory. Dumpster-diving for Egg McMuffins, breaking into grimy motel rooms, and intense encounters with cooperate managers are the order of the day here, but there's also the idea of someone living hand-to-mouth without a clear objective. For example, Marty blows most of his money right out of the gate on a lavish hotel and in yet another shrewd long take, sloppily eats an expensive plate of spaghetti with a devious grin. It's one of the fleeting moments where we see Marty enjoying himself, but it's short-lived since all he knows is surviving the day. Even his attempts at scamming the system are small in scope, reinforcing Potrykus' rather scathing indictment of the millennial mindset.
Buzzard pokes fun at the notion of the slacker anti-hero while simultaneously lambasting corporate greed, and it's this balancing of seemingly contradictory impulses that makes the film so fascinating. With bursts of post-hardcore music blaring on the soundtrack, moments of absurdist comedy, and the threat of violence always on the periphery, Buzzard really does feel like something original and important. It's young white males as nihilistic drones beholden to a culture that rejects them; a snapshot of late 80s/early 90s counterculture as empty and vacuous, and a prescient example of the danger of idealizing the slacker as some kind of noble hero for the common man. It's also savagely, uncomfortably funny.