Venue: Edinburgh Film Festival
EDINBURGH, Scotland -- It's certainly no "Death of a Salesman" or "Glengarry Glen Ross," but Jake Mahaffy's grimly lo-fi "Wellness" proves there's still mileage in using the subject of sales to explore the American male psyche. Primarily a showcase for the excellent Jeff Clark -- who's seldom off-screen as the life-worn protagonist -- this a solidly unassuming, determinedly unspectacular effort that will find its niche on the film-festival circuit.
In a startling volte-face after the alluringly old-school monochrome of his patchy, post-apocalyptic debut "War " (2004), multi-tasker Mahaffy -- whose duties here include production, writing, camerawork and editing -- deploys scratchy, wobbly video to chronicle the travels and travails of heavy-jowled, pasty-faced fiftysomething Thomas Lindsey (Clark). As he traverses the backwaters of wintry Pennsylvania hawking a mysterious diet-supplement called Wellness, Lindsey believes that prosperity is just around the corner. But is his product more placebo than panacea?
Only the most naively optimistic audiences will fail to spot that Lindsey is stuck in an ongoing financial and psychological car-wreck. Indeed, Mahaffy seems to be taking some kind of devilish delight in his hero's darkly humorous predicament while simultaneously admiring his never-say-die doggedness. Clark's sensitive work defuses any possible air of condescension, incarnating a life of quiet desperation that inspires equal parts empathy and pity. The supporting cast seemingly made up almost entirely of non-pros behave as though they're in a documentary rather than a work of fiction, adding to the repetitive, monotonous but convincing verisimilitude of the glum proceedings.