There are some very fine films about emotionally and/or financially flailing college grads — think Reality Bites, The Last Days of Disco, Funny Ha Ha, Adventureland and Tiny Furniture. Get a Job, an unfortunate new comedy starring Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick, isn’t one of them. To put things in starker context: The mediocre recent How to Be Single, in which Dakota Johnson and Rebel Wilson gal-palled around Manhattan, positively sparkles in comparison to this dimwitted and grindingly tedious chronicle of millennial angst.
Get a Job was shot in 2012, and you can feel those four dust-collecting years in every frame, even if the film’s story of educated young folks struggling to find employment that doesn’t crush the soul or numb the mind isn’t exactly outdated. The problem is that a movie like this — limp, lazy, generic — just doesn’t cut it at a time when American indies and television offer sharp, witty, satisfyingly complex takes on the “Facebook generation.” There’s more prickly truth, not to mention more humor, packed into any single scene of HBO’s Girls or Comedy Central’s Broad City, for example, than there is in all 82 dreary minutes of Get a Job. (For the record: This is the second terrible comedy within the last few months, following box office hit Daddy’s Home, whose funniest gag involves someone getting smashed in the face with a basketball. In Daddy’s Home, it was a young woman; in Get a Job, it’s a small child. Do with that observation what you will.)
Get a Job will have a simultaneous limited theatrical and on-demand release, though Teller (who shot this before Whiplash) and Kendrick may hope no one notices.
Ditto director Dylan Kidd, who made the promising Roger Dodger in 2002 (and the icky but not totally uninteresting P.S. a few years later), but exhibits alarmingly little control here. From the very first scene, the rhythm is off, the staging and editing graceless, and the dialogue (the screenplay is by Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel) alternates between trying too hard and not hard enough. Teller plays Will, who’s waiting to be promoted from unpaid intern to salaried staffer at LA Weekly when his boss (played by John Cho) tells him there’s no budget to hire him. “I don’t owe you shit,” Cho’s character adds, rubbing salt in the wound (and typifying the film’s heavy hand when it comes to portraying the cutthroat working world these kids are facing).
Will lives with his buddies in a house that offers stunning views of downtown L.A. (woe is them!). The crew consists of Luke (Brandon Jackson), who has business ambitions but settles for a low-level admin position (and endures some barbaric office hazing ritual resulting in that most overused of go-to gags: projectile vomit); Charlie (Nicholas Braun), a brazenly indifferent middle-school science teacher; and Ethan (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who’s building an app. For the life of me, I can’t remember a blander bunch of bros ever being committed to screen — though to be totally honest, I had trouble remembering who these guys were even as I watched them.
Will’s driven but debt-ridden girlfriend Jillian makes a slightly stronger impression, if only because she’s played by Kendrick, an actress capable of giving even the lamest lines a fresh spin. “This isn’t college — I need you to step it up,” Jillian tells Will in one of said lame lines; soon enough, Will scores a gig making video résumés for clients at a job placement company. Jillian, on the other hand, gets laid off and is forced to move in with Will and the boys, a development that turns her into a ramen-slurping, video game-playing stoner. It’s a measure of the movie’s glibness that rather than explore how a type-A striver like Jillian might actually deal with being unemployed, it turns her into a stereotype of slackerdom.
An ill-used Bryan Cranston plays Will’s father, Roger, who also falls victim to the cruel whims of the American economy, while Marcia Gay Harden slums it as Will’s corporate shrew of a boss (a role that culminates in a visual punchline of breathtaking misogyny). If Alison Brie fares better as a sex-starved HR recruiter it’s because she understands that sometimes the best way to handle material this stale is to play to the back row.
Utterly bereft of original ideas, authentic emotions and anything resembling a well-earned laugh, Get a Job makes one hope Teller, so magnetic in The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, is busy getting his career back on track. You know a movie’s in trouble if it makes you think longingly of That Awkward Moment, a middling 2014 comedy in which Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zac Efron, as best friends and partners in commitment-phobia, at least appeared to be having fun together.
Speaking of Efron, and of male-driven millennial films: The unduly maligned We Are Your Friends was a far more vibrant and entertaining portrait of early-20-somethings and their discontents. Those guys might not have had college degrees, but they had attitude, hustle and a bit of soul — all things the shallow, insipid young characters in Get a Job, as well as the film itself, are sorely missing.
A CBS Films and Double Feature Films production
Cast: Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, Bryan Cranston, Nicholas Braun, Brandon T. Jackson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Alison Brie, Marcia Gay Harden, Jorge Garcia, Bruce Davison
Director: Dylan Kidd
Screenwriters: Kyle Pennekamp, Scott Turpel
Producers: Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Executive producers: Tracy McGrath, Josh Rothstein
Director of photography: David Hennings
Production design: Marcia Hinds
Editor: Jeff Betancourt
Costume designer: Christine Wada
Music: Jonathan Sadoff
Casting: Sarah Finn
Rated R, 82 minutes