SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! How far can you push a man before he ax-murders a pawn-broker, kidnaps Jerry Lewis, or dyes his hair green? As further evidenced by Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, all you have to do is to crush his dreams with such vigor that they have no hope of returning. Without the pie in the sky as a north star, Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) spins out of control — a directionless buffoon acting on pure emotion. Aside from a wet floor with no signage, is there anything more dangerous?
As far as dreams go, fame-seeking isn’t exactly winning the Super Bowl or writing the great American novel. Nonetheless, it’s a relevant enough objective for the modern sad sack, who has nothing else but the vapid validation of online avatars to get them through the day. In addition to the odd heart or smiley face that Paul gets while livestreaming to an audience of six or seven, his other source of validation — significantly less vapid — is his mother, Julie (June Watson). She sews Paul’s outfits and is hopelessly supportive. The fact that her 40-year-old son still lives with her, looks like a glam rock Joe Strummer, and hopes to win a talent show with no discernable talent is of little concern to Julie. Unconditional love is all Paul’s mom has to give. Without her support, spirits will fall, and lunch breaks will turn sinister.
For a dark comedy, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break isn’t very dark. Director Nick Gillespie, working from a script he wrote with Brook Driver and Matt White, is upfront in his desire to make Paul endearing, and there’s never a moment when you’re unsure if you should laugh or not. However, every laugh is telegraphed, except for Paul’s mother nearly choking on a pill, which I found funny, but I am unsure if it was supposed to.
“…Paul attempts to hide a dead body after just livestreaming its death…”
With some exceptions, the supporting characters are duds. There’s a low-level cop who we’re supposed to like because she’s written to be the only competent character, an insufferably trendy TV host, and some local clergy who “just like f***ing people over.” The most fun the film has with morbidity is a few violent moments, which might have been shocking 60 years ago, but no more.
It’s not all a bust, though, as there are a handful of well-timed lines that slip through. As Paul’s mother, June Watson is especially good and generates most of the laughs. Her sincere delusion is more amusing than her son’s. That said, a scene where Paul attempts to hide a dead body after just livestreaming its death stands out as being more inspired than the rest of the setpieces.
By the end of Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, you realize you’ve been watching a wholesome story about a middle-aged store clerk who just wants to dance, in spite of the occasional hara-kiri. It’s conventional, feel-good fodder with no emotional or comedic depth. When it ventures into the dark side of its subject matter, it does so with a hazmat suit and a ten-foot pole.
Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…June Watson is especially good..."