It may not have yielded the most interesting 90 minutes in movie history but, before cameras ever rolled, writer-director Lauretta Tagli had an undeniably interesting idea: What would happen, she wondered, if you scripted the first 30 minutes of a picture and then just turned your cast loose to improvise the last hour?
What happened in this case was “Crushed,” a freewheeling ensemble comedy that chronicles the disintegration of a Chicago ad agency. Noah Gregoropoulos plays the central figure, the company’s nice guy owner, Jimmy. At the start of the story he lets the staff in on the fact that the firm’s largest client has just jumped ship. He assures the roomful of twenty and thirtysomethings that everything will be fine, they don’t need to worry about layoffs and that this year’s Christmas party is going to be the best ever.
The staff is composed of more or less regulation movie types. You’ve got your office dweeb, your office funny fatso, your office gay guy and your office diva/bitch among many many others.
The first half hour offers a glimpse behind the scenes at the agency. We get a sense of the company power structure, a taste of office politics and a bit of background on all the major players. The group turns out to be about evenly divided between neophytes who put their faith in Jimmy and trust that everything will work out and more jaded, cynical types- the film’s most entertaining, naturally- who snipe and snarl behind his back, blaming him for causing the company’s problems and effectively putting them out of work.
The 60 unscripted minutes for the most part unfold at the Christmas party and take the form of dozens of improvised conversational snippets strung together to simulate traditional narrative flow. The seasoned performers generate a genuinely funny line here and a revealing moment there. The office diva/bitch and gay guy in particular prove capable of coming up with impressively acid-tongued zingers. And Tagli is shrewd enough to set a story point bombshell to go off in the final moments of her experiment.
Credit is due her for the originality of her premise and for her success in squeezing out of it as much movie juice as she does. The undeniable fact though is that, for every believable moment and Parkeresque riposte, the film is dragged down by fifteen minutes of far lower grade filler. Too many performers saunter in and out of Crushed and too many of them lack the talent required to look like they’re not performing.
On balance, a nice try with enough nice touches to guarantee that Tagli and several members of her cast will have no trouble staying gainfully employed.