Identical mopes attract in The Giant Mechanical Man, a romantic comedy whose quirkiness is complemented by italicized exposition. In chilly Detroit, street performer Tim (Chris Messina) wakes each day and dons silver face make-up, a matching suit and stilts before heading out into the streets to work as a giant mechanical man, much to his girlfriend Pauline's (Lucy Punch) mounting chagrin. Not far away, temp Janice (Jenna Fischer) loses her job and finds herself adrift, a situation that forces her to move in with judgmental sister Jill (Malin Akerman) and her equally obnoxious husband Brian (Rich Sommer). These two wayward figures are, after some convenient twists of fate, destined to meet. Yet despite the charisma and understated chemistry of writer/director Lee Kirk's two likeable leads, the means by which that fateful encounter —and subsequent relationship — takes place need not have been half as affected as it is, with twinkly music, a broad self-help caricature (courtesy of Topher Grace), blunt symbolism and dialogue that overtly lays out the material's meager themes all miring the tale in dour mushiness. Indistinguishable from countless similar indie RomComs, it's hard to see the film attracting any serious theatrical attention.
Kirk's protagonists aren't puzzle pieces looking for their perfect match as much as mirror images of each other, a scenario that makes them seem less like compatible partners than Siamese twins. Nonetheless, their personality parallels are no more egregious than the endless coincidental run-ins that the story utilizes to hook them up, with Janice seeing Tim on TV —where he explains that his Mechanical Man is meant to make all the "lost" people feel a bit less alone —and then running into him on the street, time and again, and confessing her own unhappiness in laughably candid terms. The two are further thrust together by their joint decision to take jobs at the local zoo (although Janice doesn't know that Tim is in fact the Mechanical Man), and their shared aimlessness and good humor soon leads to sparks, as well as joint fights against customers who bully monkeys. Happily-ever-after romance isn't quite as easy as 1-2-3, however, since Jill forces Janice to repeatedly date Doug (Topher Grace), a long-haired author who hosts seminar on the art of conversation. Of course this egomaniac blowhard is only interested in speaking about himself, which would be fine if his presence wasn't undermining any sense of reality, especially since Grace treats the character as a pretentious joke to be mocked.
While Tim's Mechanical Man is his personal symbol of alienation, Janice receives a figurine of a young woman with her hands to her face in an expression of agony to represent her inner turmoil. Upfront explication of everyone's emotions and state of mind is emblematic of The Giant Mechanical Man, which also gives both Tim and Janice the same dream—in which their teeth fall out—while also having Tim explain to Janice, over a cutesy diner date where they share an entire pie, that said dream is about loss of power. Absence of subtlety is a constant problem throughout these proceedings, which get progressively creakier as they advance toward an inevitable second-act crisis—spurred by an episode of mistaken identity—and uplifting finale. "It only takes one person to make you feel special, and valid, and like you belong in the world," says a random nobody at one point, further hammering home the film's hopeful message about loners' chances of finding both themselves and a kindred spirit. Fischer and Messina may make a cute pair, but amidst such contrivances, they're powerless to make this RomCom seem like anything more than a creaky retread of obvious indie clichés.
Distributor: Tribeca Film
Cast: Jenna Fischer, Chris Messina, Topher Grace
Director/Screenwriter: Lee Kirk
Producers: Jenna Fischer, Molly Hassell, Michael Nardelli, Brent Stiefel
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief strong language
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: April 27, 2012