This well-cast but seldom funny satire reps a missed opportunity
Plop plop. Fizz fizz. Oh, what a missed opportunity it is! In the well-cast but seldom funny satire “And Now a Word From Our Sponsor,” the CEO of a major Chicago ad agency suffers a nervous breakdown that leaves him speaking exclusively in slogans, which those around him interpret as either signs of insanity or pearls of profound wisdom. If that sounds like the start of a promising social commentary, it could be, though the pic’s imagination runs out at the concept phase, giving its promo-spewing savant nowhere to go. Bruce Greenwood and Parker Posey’s involvement could attract a few in micro-release.
Ad exec Adan Kundle (Greenwood) was once a top brain in his field, until he inexplicably went walkabout from his job, eventually collapsing in the consumer electronics section of a local department store. Evidently, his new obsession is watching TV, flipping channels to find the commercials and recycling their taglines when he talks.
Enter Karen Hillridge (Posey), a young widow who volunteers for the hospital where the ad man awakens. Karen happened to catch a lecture of Adan’s years ago and, believing him to be a misunderstood genius, she brings him home to recover — an idea that doesn’t sit well with her teenage daughter (Allie MacDonald). The news also upsets Lucas Foster (Callum Blue), the suspenders-wearing executive climber determined to oust Adan from his own company.
That’s the meager extent of the plot provided by writer Michael Hamilton-Wright (“The Mangler 2”). Surely a film that fancies itself a modern-day “Being There” could have gone further with the premise, allowing Adan’s recycled catchphrases to influence the lives of complete strangers or the culture at large. Instead, the script merely orchestrates situations where well-known slogans can be presented in a fresh context.
When Karen offers Adan a bowl of cereal, he replies, “Got milk?” And when she looks blue, he hands her a flower, saying, “This bud’s for you.” For the most part, however, his responses amount to partial evasions or complete subject changes, as in the enigmatic non-answer “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers,” since the slogans never quite belong in proper conversation.
It’s as if by making one character talk only in taglines, “Sponsor” hopes we won’t notice the cliches pouring from everyone else’s mouths. Greenwood is a compelling enough actor to keep us interested even when playing a nobody-home guy like this, and Posey digs to find dimension in her equally bland single-mom role.
But in his feature debut, director Zack Bernbaum doesn’t yet know how to handle the pic’s tricky tone. Typical of his inexperience, the helmer outfits Adan in mismatched clothes, clashing plaids with madras pants in a too-obvious clue as to his mental state, even as he tries to maintain an off-putting ambiguity about his condition. Is Adan crazy? Does he even want to be cured? That ambiguity ultimately leads to confusion, judging by reactions from festival-goers who didn’t understand the final scene, clumsily executed as it was.