'Broken Ceiling': Film Review

Righteous themes don't keep this low-budget pic from playing like a drama class exercise.

Adam Davis watches a black woman fight for workplace equality in this play-like debut.

A black woman snaps after years of watching less qualified white men take the promotions she deserves in Broken Ceiling, a workplace drama about a conference call that goes very badly. The writing/directing debut of Adam Davis, the four-person (and one voice) drama is, to understate the situation, uncinematic: It would look bare-bones even on a small theater's stage, where its round robin of abrupt monologues would be more at home. A capable cast makes the most of Davis' sincere but not very deep script; despite the timeliness of the material, though, big-screen prospects are dim.

Karan Kendrick plays Angela, longtime assistant of Ken (Regen Wilson), the executive vice president of "worldwide partnerships" for a film company whose conference rooms would probably be a lot less generic than the one we see here. They're at work on a Sunday, joined for a sales call by two young strivers in the office: overprepared Tyler (Rane Jameson), who believes he is due for a Directorship, and anxious Garrett (Torran Kitts), a new hire learning the ropes from him. As he condescendingly prepares them all for the call (Wilson's performance is considerably more stagey than the others), Ken declares that, if they do their jobs and help him make this $32 million deal, "today will be the greatest day of your lives."

They're calling tech mogul Thomas Bradford (Jay Disney), hoping to get him to pay for product placement and assorted promotional tie-ins on what Ken brags is "the movie of the summer." Bradford is an impatient, to-the-point man, and both Ken and Tyler get off on the wrong foot by trying to butter him up. Still, he's willing to be sold on the deal, and is oddly patient when the call is disrupted repeatedly — first by Garrett's attempts to insert himself into the pitch, then by a strange plan Tyler has to put his deceitful boss on the spot.

Then it's Angela's turn. While the call is on hold, she pulls a gun on her co-workers, her intentions unclear to them and to us. Speaking to the audience in voiceover, Angela expresses concerns about "how this looks...an angry black woman with a gun." (She doesn't also note the awkwardness of this black woman's story being told by a white man.) But she hardly needs the disclaimer: Davis is about to give her roughly 25 minutes of nearly uninterrupted monologue, in which the film grinds to a halt so she can make her complaints clear.

Broken Ceiling turns into a twisted HR grievance meeting, as Angela reminds Ken what a model employee she has been and demonstrates that she has been doing an exec's job for an assistant's salary. She clearly deserves the promotion, but what she hopes to get with the gun is hard to guess.

Whatever her endgame, Angela has time to humiliate her boss. She convinces Ken to tell a long, personal story that leaves him in a stupor, then steps in with Bradford to explain the outburst and Ken's sudden absence. If the businessman's acceptance of her strange lie stretches credibility, so does the mood in the conference room, where the intended hostage psychodrama never really gels.

Things don't end before Jameson gets his own chance at a showy monologue, this one even harder to justify than its predecessors. (He's trying to convince a billionaire that getting tickets to a movie premiere and afterparty will be "the best night of your life.") If the way Davis wraps things up is neither surprising nor remotely satisfying, it does at least hold a lesson for white-collar tyrants who haven't seen 9 to 5 or the dozens of workplace-revenge fantasies that followed it: "The assistant controls everything."

Production company: Rogue 47 Productions
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Karan Kendrick, Rane Jameson, Regen Wilson, Torran Kitts, Jay Disney
Director-screenwriter-editor: Adam Davis
Producers: Adam Davis, Will Pilgrim
Director of photography: Jessica Gallant
Composers: Ian Flux, Chris Potts

90 minutes