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The Promotion (Steve Conrad, 2008)


     Watching Steve Conradís workplace comedy The Promotion, the overriding impression one gets is just how gosh-darn nice it is. Taking a classic setup, in which two co-workers try to sabotage each other to earn a pay increase, the film dials down obvious hijinks and instead opts to consider the interpersonal relationships it maps out. This warmer, fuzzier take on the genre is unusual, if not unprecedented. Workplace comedies generally focus on the competitive, dehumanizing aspects of our work lives, so to have a film that grows more humane as the stakes grow higher is unexpected, even if recent comedies, such as In Good Company and Cashback admittedly unfolded similarly. If the workplace comedy has become focused on keeping your soul intact while navigating corporate world, instead of playing a dog-eat-dog scenario for laughs, it might reflect a sea change in our attitudes toward the workplace. Then again, maybe these films are just aping Jerry Maguire a few years later than expected.


     Whatever the case, The Promotion does sacrifice some comedy in its attempt at depth. It proposes some pratfalls (involving things like shopping carts and fart jokes), but the movie develops a heart by resisting the temptation to go for most of the easy laughs that it sets up. Its characters have actual character, and the fact that that catches viewers off guard says more about a mean tendency in mainstream filmmaking than any particular insights that The Promotion itself has to offer, I think. As the plot unfolds, lead Seann William Scott develops into an unlikely, but effective, moral compass and co-star John C. Reillyís go-getter slowly morphs into a convincing sad sack. The movie is something of a bait-and-switch, and in its resistance of first impressions, it seems to be moving toward some sort of grand statement. Catharsis on these terms never really arrives, however. These characters are more well-rounded than one might expect, but the script never grants them the sort of perspective that makes the film feel truly wise. They end up at the end of their scuffle as better people, and their childish confrontation makes them become more mature men, but the movie canít make that transformation speak on any universal level. What results is a movie that is likeable, but almost aggressively minor. Souls have rarely been saved so easily. In sum, The Promotion is ultimately too stripped of humor to be greatly enjoyable, and too free of histrionics or insight to be dramatically exciting, making me think that maybe being nice isnít always the best approach.



Jeremy Heilman