Writer/Director Tom Logan Gruber’s Jumbo John is a crisp and elegantly lensed slice of late-stage capitalist paranoia. Sophie is a chess genius who has had enough of city life. The short film follows her attempt, both literally and intellectually, to escape a hyper-surreal New York City. It’s not that easy though, as every step of her journey is lorded over by John, an omnipresent Steve Jobs-via-George Orwell-type figure.
It’s unclear if John is AI, a tech guru, a benevolent utopian leader, or simply a metaphor for the increasingly unseen presence of automation and algorithmic determinism in our everyday lives. Regardless, it’s an effective, if somewhat hollow, poetic device that helps guide the film through its intriguing nocturnal landscape.
The film’s downside is its a fairly typical tale of urban frustration, and Sophie’s ever-yearning angst to escape the city is grating. For us city dwellers—particularly New Yorkers, Sophie’s desire to escape the “madness” and inconvenience of the city is a common refrain amongst a certain class, and to see it dramatized in such arch fashion comes off a bit trite.
“…follows her attempt, both literally and intellectually, to escape a hyper-surreal New York City.”
Gruber’s direction, however, is confident, and the performances passable. Jumbo John’s momentum and beautiful photography are really what’s on display. The film moves quickly from encounter to encounter with well-placed cuts and impressive framing.
What the film presents feels a bit like the first chapter of a young adult novel, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The continued adventures of Sophie, the young chess genius in the soft power, totalitarian state, could honestly be a lot of fun. This reviewer though is interested to see what this team can achieve with a theme that gives the audience more to chew on.
Jumbo John (2018) Written and Directed by Tom Logan Gruber. Starring Angela Carbone, Matt Cutler, Darlene Dues, Gloria Jung, Bill Weeden, Madalyn McKay. Jumbo John screened at the 2018 Dances With Films.
7 out of 10 stars