By: Addison Wylie
Everyone is quick to pull the trigger on the “rip off” gun and Warren P. Sonoda’s Servitude is no exception. In fact, if one was to look up the film’s trailer on YouTube, they would see the two top rated comments sarcastically comparing the comedy to Rob McKittrick’s Waiting….
It’s understandable as to why movie goers would jump to this conclusion. The similarity they latch onto the most is that both movies deal with a normal Joe Schmoe (in this case Josh, played by Joe Dinicol) working in a gimmicky restaurant. Josh doesn’t mind working as a server but realizes that he’s reaching his peak. With three years under his belt and his relentless girlfriend Jenny, played by Kristen Hager, nagging him to quit, Josh is determined his next shift will always be his last.
The Ranch Steakhouse is run by the gung-ho Godfrey, played by Dave Foley. After learning that over half his staff are ill and the restaurant will be undergoing an audit by the store’s German owner Franz, played by Enrico Colantoni, Godfrey tries to rope in Josh, unknowing that Josh wants to move on and giving Josh another excuse to stay at the establishment.
What unfolds is an evening filled with annoying regulars, irritating new arrivals, and a bully with an agenda. Upon learning about the alternative plans Franz and company has planned for The Ranch Steakhouse, Josh takes a stand. He pitches to his fellow employees that on this peril-filled night, none of them should feel put down by the barrage of idiots. Each one of them should speak up and give these customers a reality check reminding them they are respected servers and not doormats.
On paper, Servitude’s premise may ring bells. It may look and sound like the aforementioned Waiting…, Clerks 1 and 2, and even Office Space but what stops the film from being lumped in with the crowd is that Michael Sparaga’s semi-autobiographical script as well as the charismatic and friendly cast has a likeable charm and an element of do-goodiness.
Even though those previous American films are very funny and very relatable to anyone who has worked at a 9-5 slog, they revel in aggravation; at least for the most part. They feature a lot of characters bickering and asking each other (as well as the audience), “and, what’s the deal with these kinds of idiots in the workplace” to which we respond with a robust “Yeah!”
Sparaga is interested in taking pot shots at those annoying people that enter in the everyday worker’s life but he also wants to show his endearment to working with a close team. He shows how unique, and often dysfunctional people can face the circumstances and work together with amusing results. It takes a while to warm up to the employees at The Rancher Steakhouse but once we do, we never regret getting to know these characters and by the end, we feel apart of the family.
When the employees decide to turn the tables on the customers, it never feels nihilistic or overly mean. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t commit to it’s frustration. Actually, having that feel of a good natured romp doesn’t bog the movie down in anger. We shake our heads in agreement to what the employees are saying to the customers and we’re laughing with it all the way through.
Even the jokes that poke fun at Franz’s German background and his awkward double-entendres are all in good fun and are never offensive. Same goes for the jokes poking fun at Jeigh Madjus’ character’s homosexuality.
The trickiest task the script writer and the director have is that they must not have the scenes of dialogue between Josh and his buddy Tommy, played by John Bregar, sound like conversations Dante and Randal would have in the Quik Stop in any of the Clerks. Sure enough, Sparaga and Sonoda have a tight grasp on these scenes and always find a way to make them their own.
Sure, there’s a smattering of crude moments and rarely does Sparaga and Sonoda go for visual gross-outs but they never feel like they’re there to please a prepubescent audience but rather because the circumstances would be that much funnier if these disgusting things happened. It did what Dave Thomas’ Intern Academy should’ve done. I’m glad to see this duo not fall in the gross out humour trap.
I’m still on the fence about the cinematography though. The 35mm presentation makes the film take on a mature look but I found some of the framing unusual; especially when it started to float around and wander during scenes of dialogue.
Nonetheless, Servitude will make you laugh and will leave you feeling good. It does exactly what great food makes people do; go back for seconds or thirds.