Ever been fired? Sure you have. Anyone who’s spent enough time in the workforce has been canned, laid off, or unceremoniously downsized from their place of employment. It’s part and parcel of our rich capitalist tradition. There’s no shame in it, and if anyone knows this, it’s Annabelle Gurwitch. An actor of some success for the last 20 years, Gurwitch secured a role in the Woody Allen play “Writer’s Block” a few years ago, only to be told soon after rehearsals started that her services would no longer be required. Worse, Allen said she “looked retarded” during her line readings.
Some of us might take such an appraisal of our talents in bad form, turning to strong drink and seclusion. And Gurwitch does, for a short time, but in the course of discussing her dismissal with friends and acquaintances, she comes to realize the universal nature of the experience. Everyone she talked to, it seemed, had their own story (or stories) about losing a job. Seizing upon these, Gurwitch (also a writer for the likes of Glamour and the LA Times Magazine) used the inspiration to create a series of “literary events” in which her fellows from the entertainment industry regaled audiences with their stories of termination.
Her film “Fired!” which is debuting simultaneously with Gurwitch’s book of the same name, is not just a look at how her friends deal with the ordeal of being dismissed, but a (somewhat) broader examination of the issue of downsizing in the American workforce. Gurwitch talks to the likes of Anne Meara and Bob Odenkirk, but also to former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and ex-Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, who paint a grim picture of the American’ worker’s future, even at a time when CEOs enjoy million dollar buyouts when dismissed from their positions. This contrasts somewhat with Gurwitch’s overarching theme, which is more of the “making lemonade from lemons” variety, and it was hard not to get the idea that – unlike the fired GM autoworkers she interviews at one point – she had a sufficient support structure in place to keep her from ever going hungry.
The movie works when it operates in the context in which Gurwitch is most comfortable, namely: comedy. Some of the folks she has in her stage production are hilarious (former “Facts of Life” writer Andy Borowitz and writer/actor Stephen Adly Guirgis especially), and she has a disarming presence as an interviewer (the exception being an excruciatingly unfunny segment with Andy Dick in a burrito wagon). Her attempts with the likes of Reich and Stein, however, don’t come off as well. I’m not sure if she instructed the directors to make her look like an idiot during these segments, but the frequent decision to cut back to her sitting gape-mouthed while the two men explained labor economics may not have been the wisest choice.
No, “Fired!” is best appreciated as a relatively lighthearted look at an experience unfortunately shared by millions of Americans. When Gurwitch sticks with the light touch, the results are gratifying, she just seems to lack the substance required to tackle some of the issues she covers.