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Review: Two Sharp Performances Stranded By Limp Satire In 'And Now A Word From Our Sponsor'

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist May 9, 2013 at 7:02PM

There’s a nugget of a great satire within Zack Bernbaum’s “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor,” which begins with the discovery of missing advertising wizard Adan Kundle (Bruce Greenwood). A year has passed since the eccentric head of Kundle Advertising walked out of his office and disappeared, found passed out in front of a row of televisions in an electronics store. Physically, he’s fine: Greenwood is a perfect casting choice as a man seemingly born to sell. It’s fitting that in spite of a solid collection of big-screen roles, Greenwood has always seemed more at home on television. Distinguished but with a devilish grin, Greenwood can’t help but always seem like he’s just stepped out of a Gillette commercial.
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And Now A Word From Our Sponsor
There’s a nugget of a great satire within Zack Bernbaum’s “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor,” which begins with the discovery of missing advertising wizard Adan Kundle (Bruce Greenwood). A year has passed since the eccentric head of Kundle Advertising walked out of his office and disappeared, found passed out in front of a row of televisions in an electronics store. Physically, he’s fine: Greenwood is a perfect casting choice as a man seemingly born to sell. It’s fitting that despite a solid collection of big-screen roles, Greenwood has always seemed more at home on television. Distinguished but with a devilish grin, Greenwood can’t help but always seem like he’s just stepped out of a Gillette commercial.

In the hospital, he wakes to the face of Karen Hillridge (Parker Posey), a former student from Kundle’s advertising workshop twenty years prior. Karen is now in charge of marketing and glad-handing for the hospital, owes much of her success to Kundle, and jumps at the sight of him like a former groupie. Except beyond the natural intelligence that Greenwood radiates, Kundle has emerged from his stupor speaking exclusively in advertising slogans. Some of his comments seem oddly appropriate to the situation (“Got milk?”) while others become something of a zen koan in the moment (“Some of our best men are women”). And still others seem like utter gibberish.

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor
From this point, it doesn’t seem clear as to which story is being told. Adan is discharged into Karen’s hands and she takes him home for some reason, only to be approached by acting Kundle CEO Lucas Foster (Callum Blue). Karen is a harried, somewhat resentful single mother, and daughter Megan (Allie MacDonald) holds believable grudges; their arguments, many of which occur in front of Adan, ring with the truth that comes from parent and child too stubborn to admit their similarities. Comparatively, Foster is another cartoonishly evil (and British!) exec, hellbent on prying the company from Adan’s hands. When he learns that Adan’s conversational tact is based on repeated, smirking deliveries of catchphrases, he goes through the necessary steps of proving that Adan is no longer capable of running his company, something that qualifies as a “scheme” given Foster’s gloating avarice, even if it’s the same professional strategy literally anyone would pursue.

It’s impossible to not think about Hal Ashby’s “Being There” in regards to this premise. While Chauncey Gardener was looked at as some sort of genius for his repetitive nonsense and common sense regurgitations, Adan is immediately declared a liability, treated like a simpleton and brushed to the side when adults are talking. While Gardener seemed to have no idea how his words were being received, Adan instead seems fully capable of grasping what he’s being told and when he’s being insulted, turning an air of ambiguity into simple formal messiness: what HAS happened to Adan, and how much of him is still inside? “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor” shows little interest in letting the audience in, even denying us an understanding of who Adan was before his disappearance, making us wonder if he knows what is or is not going on at his expense. And like the climactic moment in “Being There,” there’s a magical realist moment where an unplugged television still plays commercials for Adan’s pleasure.

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor
Also in the neighborhood of “Being There,” 'Sponsor' finds a moment where a slogan-spewing Kundle is involved with politics, inadvertently giving a senator (Howard Rosenstein) a new slogan for his ad campaign. However, this moment occurs in a pretty sad ad that shows the entire production’s skimpy budget, failing to depict the influence Adan has over the world around him. 'Sponsor' has a wonderful, sly point to make about how most ad slogans work because they flatter the listener, a fact that allows all parties involved to tolerate Adan even though he appears obnoxiously disengaged with reality. But most of the time, there are moments like the political ad, where the project seems compromised by a meager budget and limited scale: the bantering between Lucas Foster and his secretary feels like the sort of thing you’d see in an Amazon sitcom pilot.

This makes the film not just amiably vacant, but disreputable, for wasting the talents of Greenwood and Posey, two wonderfully game performers. Posey, a national treasure who has failed to land that perfect A-List vehicle, adds an ersatz nature to her fairly straightforward character, excelling at physical comedy while tossing sly barbs towards the cast: her scenes with Callum Blue blow him out of the water, but they also work as something of a highlight reel, watching Posey go to town on an undermanned male actor like Michael Jordan carving up the '90s-era Knicks. And Greenwood keeps his professional ad-man completely unflappable and infectiously watchable: a cute end-credits outtake reveals a unique alternate take of a certain scene where Greenwood reveals a striking singing voice while moving through a single-take sequence, only for the other actor in the scene to flub his only line. Says it all, really. [C]

This article is related to: Bruce Greenwood, Parker Posey, Review, Reviews


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