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By Admin | July 15, 2003

Senior suburbia is mercilessly skewered in the wickedly funny, though ultimately trifling short film “Payback”. Jack Wallace is pitch perfect as Harold Gablonski, a world-weary senior with a permanent frown. The bane of Harold’s existence is two-fold: his nagging, whiny wife Grace Marie (Lynda Lenet) and his larcenous, busy-body neighbor Mrs. Rossi (Faith Christopher). This fearsome duo torments poor Harold on a daily basis, bringing him to the point of meltdown. One more tirade against the supermarket bagger from his wife or one more missing gardening tool courtesy of Mrs. Rossi and Harold will likely explode. Actually, Harold’s breakdown is more of an implosion than an explosion when both catalytic events happen in the same day. In an act of either utter contempt with life or else a cruel joke on his wife “Harold and Maude”-style (I’m not quite sure which), Harold hangs himself in the hallway. His wife finds him and immediately passes out. Hearing Mrs. Gablonski’s screams, Mrs. Rossi waddles over to their house and taking them both for dead, proceeds to help herself to the Gablonski’s valuables. At that moment Harold wakes up (he too had passed out, from asphyxiation) and literally scares Mrs. Rossi to death (in Harold’s defense, she did have a heart condition). The next morning, the Gablonskis are stirred by the sounds of the police knocking at their door…
So did the events of the previous night actually happen or was it all just a wonderfully satisfying dream (at least in Harold’s mind)? I won’t tell, but I will say that “Payback” concludes with a truly creepy and ironic denouement. You see, Mrs. Gablonski also has a bad heart, so let’s just say that things around the Gablonski house will be much different from now on.
Troy Romeo, the film’s writer/director/producer, exhibits a cheerfully wicked sense of humor and a sharply satiric flair. His characters are intentionally drawn as caricatures, yet somehow they seem all too real. We’ve all lived next-door to, or at least known of Mrs. Rossi’s in our lives. And we’ve all heard our fathers or uncles or friends get their ‘boots busted’ by the Grace Marie Gablonskis of the world. Thus, we feel every ounce of Harold’s suffering in every craggly wrinkle of actor Jack Wallace’s biblically exhausted kisser. The actor is superb in the role, as are the two actresses playing his nemeses. While I liked the film enough, I just didn’t think it amounted to much in the end. Perhaps it’s more a function of the medium, that being the comedic short film, than the actual film itself. Comedic short films are often built around a single joke, one that you either get or you don’t. And forget about true characterization in a 16 min short. Romeo’s joke is a fairly good one, but I would be really interested to see what he could do with a full-length feature. For even with mere minutes to work with, his storytelling reminded me of an unpolished Wes Anderson or an Alexander Payne. Especially Payne, since clearly his Warren R. Schmidt and Romeo’s Harold Gablonski are similar souls.

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