“Shift” is the story of all those late-night shifts across America, of the cleaning women sweeping and vacuuming through an office building, of ovens helping bread rise in bakeries, of frustrated men in various post offices clocking in and out, of that one devoted employee who thinks he’s doing good by working late into the night, but it’s ultimately for nothing.
While it represents all those people, “Shift” gives time to Alex (Aldous Davidson) a half Korean half Jewish 20-something aspiring actor who finds work in San Francisco in the mailroom of a financial firm, sorting flat envelopes that will only go to the millionaires. Now any late-night work, as Charles Bukowski attested in “Post Office” has its share of personalities, a new universe formed in small spaces. The boss, Oscar (Paul Sum), is well-meaning, trying to keep spirits up even when they flag, because other workers like the talkative Louis (Al Thompson) and the grizzled Marc (Tom O’Malley) work day job after day job, trying to make ends meet that seem like they will never meet up and connect. Louis has his fun with Wing (Jackson Ning) older than all the other guys, gently mocking him over the chicken feet soup he brings to work to eat during the lunch hour, which is usually only 30 minutes according to the invisible management of the company, but Oscar figures that these guys work hard enough, so why should they have a shorter time to relax? At least that’s what it seems like when he tells Alex how to fill out his time card.
Meanwhile, as night turns into day, Alex hears from bright-faced Melanie (Allyn Rachel), who likes him, but he doesn’t care, though he appreciates it when she connects him to a producer making a commercial that needs Asian flavor, so to speak. This is life for him right now. He works in that mailroom to make money enough to go to a $10,000-a-semester acting school in New York. There are moments in “Shift”, amidst the semi-bleak cinematography by writer/director Jonathan Yi that are almost impossible to bear, such as the lid of the coffee pot always dropping when Brian (Jarett Gonzalez) pours himself a cup, but that’s life in this workplace. And when the worst happens for all these co-workers (evidenced by the pizzas sent by the ineffectual, impersonal management), there’s a pang of regret from us too because it’s been quite a time with all of them. With all that goes on, Alex should be a writer, taking this all down, but with how little he expresses himself, maybe it’s best that he becomes an actor one day. Because who knows; he might even find a playwright or a screenwriter to put this experience into words. Yi has done this, based on his own experience in a financial firm’s mailroom, and he’s captured what it is to be part of the late shifts of the country. Even when it’s dark, someone’s still working out there, trying to make enough money to either do something in their life or just to keep working because they like it. Alex is sensitive enough to understand it all and it shows.