I have to give Small Time a large amount of credit. It’s a film starring two slick used car salesmen and presents male attitudes as maturely as possible while embracing the swindling stereotype. It also finds a way to be heartfelt with family drama, as well as make you giggle with car lot banter. That’s quite a juggle, and filmmaker Joel Surnow maintains his load effortlessly.
Al and Ash – two old fashioned gentlemen played with proper likability by Christopher Meloni and Dean Norris – enjoy their jobs. The jackpots may be far and few between, but they both have a knack for reading people in a way that doesn’t make them out to be mean people. Just observant.
Al’s job at Diamond Motors is what started the distance between himself and his ex-wife Barbara (played by Bridget Moynahan). When their son Freddy (played by Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s Devon Bostick) shows more interest in selling cars than post-secondary education, Barbara is rattled. However, a defenceful Al is elated to find out that Freddy wants to work in the same shop and even move into the same house.
Surnow doesn’t feel the need to have his smooth, more impressionable male characters flex their muscles. They love to talk shop, but they appreciate everyone around them. The relationship between Ash and Al isn’t a bromance, but rather two employees who have a incredibly durable and honest friendship.
When Freddy makes the car lot dynamic a trio, that same respect is shown. Surnow doesn’t take the time to have characters condescend the newbie and at no point does Al want to deliberately break his son into the business. The process is gradual, and Bostick does a very good job at showing his perseverance take shape. Meloni and Norris make great mentors too.
Between how many males versus females are played as levelheaded individuals, Small Time can come across as a movie that’s one-sided. The only female who doesn’t have screen time in hysterics is seen only briefly. The women roles eventually gain a back bone, but they are easily more flawed than Meloni or Norris.
On the other hand, two supporting male roles that never quite settle in are the comic relief turns by Happy Madison cohort Kevin Nealon and Borat’s Ken Davitian. It’s a film that manages to keep the comedy clean until their salty language earns Small Time an unfortunate R-rating. I was squinting at the language more than I was laughing, making me wonder if this “guy talk” was really worth the hassle to incorporate it.
The sudden dramatic turns may catch moviegoers off guard who are expecting something to match the jazzy musical score, but the well roundedness is what makes Small Time stick. It adds more confoundings for two leads who thought new change would be easy to adapt to. When Al sees his son become cynical and unfair after more practice with customers, he decides to add more change to the relationship.
Joel Surnow’s dramedy is funny and ripely distinguished. Surnow hardly resorts to cheap laughs or devices to please his audience. As Al and Ash treat Freddy, the filmmaker never treats moviegoers with deigning disrespect.