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With: Josh Kornbluth, Helen Shumaker, Warren Keith, Amy Resnick, Brian Thorstenson, June A. Lomena, Sarah Overman
Written by: Josh Kornbluth, Jacob Kornbluth, John Bellucci
Directed by: Josh Kornbluth, Jacob Kornbluth
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 86
Date: 01/22/2001
IMDB

Haiku Tunnel (2001)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Just Joshing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Josh Kornbluth appears onscreen in a white room explaining that none of the characters in the forthcoming story, Haiku Tunnel, are real. He himself will be playing a character named "Josh" (complete with little finger quotes) that has very little to do with the real-life Josh. Except that the real-life Josh and "Josh" in the movie were both temps at a legal firm. Oh, and that they're both working on a novel. And that they both wear very cool Hawaiian-type print shirts. And a few other things.

In the film, "Josh" accepts a temp job working for Bob Shelby (Warren Keith, a bit player from various Coen Brothers films) at a big San Francisco law firm. Apparently, he makes quite an impression, because the firm asks him to "go perm" within the week. Josh performs all of his duties well, except for mailing 17 very important letters, which he just can't seem to get done. He keeps inventing little excuses as to why he hasn't mailed them, and things keep getting more and more delayed.

The head secretary Marlina (Helen Shumaker) is hard on Josh in the workplace, but Josh finds solace in calling her answering machine at night and describing his feelings to it. His helpful co-workers include Clifford (Brian Thorstenson), Mindy (Amy Resnick), and DaVonne (June Lomena), whom Josh hits on during his lowest moment. During his adventures in trying to mail the 17 letters, Josh meets an excruciatingly attractive lawyer with a dazzling smile named Julie Faustino (Sarah Overman) that provides a rather movie-like romantic interlude -- complete with romantic dinner and a sexy after-dinner tryst. And Harry Shearer (from This Is Spinal Tap and "The Simpsons") shows up for a small, funny role as an office trainer responsible for putting "Josh" behind yet another day in mailing the 17 very important letters.

Haiku Tunnel is based on Korbluth's first monologue from 1990, and is adapted and directed by himself and his younger half-brother Jacob. (John Bellucci co-wrote the screenplay.) Like Clerks, it's an ultra-cheap (about $200,000) and ultra-personal comedy made completely through will power, though Haiku Tunnel doesn't ever resort to penis and fart jokes. Its comedy comes through personal neurosis and the experience of working at a job; two things rarely explored in films, and rarely as effectively as in Haiku Tunnel.

It also carefully avoids the trappings of theater and monologue. The Kornbluths could easily have filmed a monologue similar to Spalding Gray's Swimming to Camboida, which is a great achievement in itself. But they instead took the hard road and succeeded spectacularly. As the brothers themselves point out, the film starts out inside Josh's head with lots of narration and descriptions of how Josh feels, but as the story progresses, outside characters come into his life, and he begins to live in a real -- or at least more visual -- world. Josh himself proves to be a most effective movie star. On stage, he relied solely on his verbal wit to carry a show, but now he must spend quiet moments alone with the camera. His expressive face more than carries him through.

I'm trying hard not to give away the funny parts, of which there are many. Some of them are simple one-liners, as when Josh describes stealing pens from his temporary places of work (he likes the cheap pens that die quickly, the "Camille" of pens). And some of them are complex gags springing from the depth of Josh's subconscious and built up over several scenes. The title comes from a mid-movie flashback describing Josh's perfect job, a Zen-like experience that allowed him to transcribe tunnel specs while listening to music without any supervision (he even had time to work on his novel).

Haiku Tunnel makes fine use of San Francisco locations, and not just standard shots of the Golden Gate Bridge -- this is an insider's view of The City. All the actors are local, and many of them, including the wonderful Overman, make their movie debuts here. I expect that her and Josh -- at least -- have bright futures in cinema. The film also has great musical taste, including music by the Pixies, the Ramones, Television, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Not only did this movie remind me of my own nightmare temp days from years ago, but it made me laugh uproariously. I've seen funny films this year, like Rat Race and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but this is the first film I've seen whose humor is true and comes from within. It's a spectacular achievement and should not be missed.