With a solid comic ensemble including Jenna Fischer, Chris Messina, Topher Grace, and Malin Ackerman, I was prepared to be swept up in the contemporary romance of "The Giant Mechanical Man." Fischer's charms are on evident display here, she nails the every woman quality that makes her so inherently likable. And Messina steps into a leading role with ease, even though his "art form" of dressing in silver paint as a stilted street performer never rings true. As I've seen dozens of these acts, Messina lacks the technical sharpness to be so smug in his skills and contribution to the art world. Of course, this being a thoughtful indie--these two attractive and winning actors represent the lonely and disconnected among us. "The Giant Mechanical Man" becomes, thus, a very familiar movie in both its themes and plotting. I even have a nickname for these films, I have truly seen them so many times (and more often than not, they are meaningful low-budget indies). This is what I call a Lonelyhearts films where people who are attractive, intelligent, and appealing somehow manage to live depressive lives yearning for a soul mate.
A certain heavy handedness is apparent in the character introductions. Fischer is such a hard case, she gets berated and set-up by her overbearing sister (Ackerman, lacking any form of subtlety). One such hook-up is with Grace (in a terrible wig) as a creepy and unrealistic self-help guru whose bluster masks his own visible insecurities. And Messina is dumped by a girlfriend who doesn't understand his commitment to his art (never mind that he doesn't support her and goes out of his way to embarrass her at a work function). The two wander the city, dine alone, and stare purposefully into space while moody music plays. These are all the cues you need to realize that these thirtysomethings are deeply unhappy. As movie fate would have it, the two both search the newspaper help wanted ads (no computers in the city?) and get different, but instantaneous, jobs at the local zoo. They are, of course, drawn to one another. Fischer, by the way, is also fascinated by Messina's silver alter ego whom she has opened up to in a moment of vulnerability (she doesn't know it's him. Even when she goes to his mostly empty apartment, she must not notice the work table with all the makeup).
As expected, there is nothing really keeping these two apart but the screenplay builds in some manufactured obstacles. There are moments of amusement, but things unfold at a very leisurely pace. What do you think is going to happen? Will these two get together? Are nights of depression a thing of the past? I won't spoil anything, but I suspect you already know the answers. But without digging too deeply, the movie ends just as it arrives at its most pivotal moment. As I said, I like both Messina and Fischer. I just wish that I hadn't felt like I'd seen this movie at least a dozen different times in the past. Watching indie films, you'd think every city-dweller is isolated and unhappy just looking for love to complete them. It's a stereotype that is becoming a bit tired (especially when cast with actors that would seem to have everything going for them). Bonus points, though, Fischer finds a small screaming toy figurine. I own the exact little figure! It comes from the aptly titled Horrified B-Movie Victims Set from Accoutrements. About 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 10/12.