Thomas Lindsay (Jeff Clark) is a dedicated, hard-working, tireless employee of the Wellness Corp. All of which takes on special significance when one realizes said business doesn't actually exist. His boss (Paul Mahaffy, the director's real-life father) explains proper sales technique to Tom during a training session in the former's car in a parking lot: When asked what the product is, say there's different levels. When asked about assets, say there's factories and real estate. Say you're going to the headquarters building tomorrow.
There's also levels within the corporation: regional manager, district supervisor and manager, business unit manager, the latter making $400K a year. It's left as a mystery how many employees there actually are. We gradually learn Wellness is an actual, physical product, with alleged pharmaceutical properties, though what these are seems to vary from scene to scene and from one potential customer to the next.
Without giving away too much of the plot, let me just say that the scenes of Tom getting his bonus; renting a car; buying photocopies; phoning his wife; phoning HQ to inquire why his product shipment hasn't arrived; and running an important sales seminar are all entertaining in their own fingernails on a blackboard sort of way. His conversation with a blue collar city worker in the field about his failed attempt to get in to see the mayor is simply priceless. And the images of cattle watching him cut down a hornets nest on the side of a snow-covered road, and of the solitary figure of him wheeling his suitcase down a lonely country road, speak volumes as to who he is and what he's about.
This film doesn't drag, which isn't easy when there's often only one actor on camera—the level of interest and anticipation is consistent throughout. By the end—hell, ten minutes in—you have such an emotional attachment to this guy, you want to jump out of your seat, pound on the screen and yell, 'Hey dude—Wellness doesn't exist!'
As to the script, according to director Mahaffy, 'We made it up as we went along.' I asked him, 'How did you come up with so many bad things to happen to this guy?' He replied, 'It was really easy. Jeff didn't know how it was going to end. I told the rest of the cast to screw with him.' In other words, this is metascrewing. I'm not sure that's a word, but that's what's going down here—screwing with an actor above and beyond the screwing of his character in the script. Clark gives a top-notch performance as a clueless yet decent guy, trapped 24 / 7 in the ultimate job from hell. He was in Mahaffy's film, War, and has done improv on his own, but has no formal training in acting. BTW, Paul Mahaffy actually collects hornet nests.
The sad part is, there ARE businessmen very much like this one, MANY of them. In businesses which barely exist. It was tough to watch this guy throwing his life away and not even knowing it. And yet, I'd gladly watch the film again. Is it wrong to feel that way? I'm reminded of the Mel Brooks line, that tragedy is when I get a paper cut, and comedy is when you fall down a flight of stairs.
For a low-budget indie film, it doesn't feel like that at all. Given that, and the fact that a single camera was used, the cinematography of outdoor scenes and the numerous indoor shooting locations is simply outstanding. In the end, this downbeat, sometimes dark portrait of a man is truly stunning. It needs to be seen by anyone in business. And by everyone else.
Wellness (2007), Hand Cranked Film, 90 mins. www.handcrankedfilm.com. Director / Writer, Jake Mahaffy. I give this film 3 stars (out of 4).
Jeff Clark and Jake Mahaffy.
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