We’re all movie fans here, and we can understand how a scene that zinged and sparkled in the original PDF of the screenplay can die a horrible death onscreen.
Perhaps the director couldn’t figure out the best way to bring the scene to life. It’s possible the actors missed the rhythm and nuances of the dialogue.
And even if the above factors were clicking on all cylinders, the wrong touch in the editing bay could sink the moment.
In the case of the awkwardly titled, swing-and-a-big-miss workplace comedy “A Happening of Monumental Proportions,” there are numerous scenes so tone-deaf, so off-putting and fundamentally unsound in structure and dialogue, the execution of those sequences is doomed from the get-go.
Martin Scorsese directing Daniel Day-Lewis wouldn’t have been able to save the day.
Think I’m being overly rough on a good-natured and relatively harmless piece of cinematic cotton candy marking the directorial feature film debut of the wonderful, lovable, ubiquitous character actress Judy Greer?
Well. Consider this scene.
It’s Career Day at a middle school. Nerdy office drone and widowed father Daniel (Common, looking uncomfortable throughout) is just about to address his daughter’s sixth grade class when Arthur (Bradley Whitford), the uptight jerk of a corporate exec who just fired Daniel for having an affair with his married assistant, shows up.
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Turns out the well-traveled, cold-blooded, company hit man Arthur is ALSO a widower— and (at this point unbeknownst to the dads), his socially awkward son Darius (Markus Eckert) has fallen in love with Daniel’s daughter Patricia (Storm Reid from “A Wrinkle of Time”) on the kid’s very first day of school. (All sympathy to the kid and his displacement issues, the “courtship” is creepy and sad.)
Hold on. We’re just now getting to that irredeemable scene.
Daniel starts telling the kids about his job at a book company (one of the many curious aspects of this movie is the enormous headquarters for the publishing firm, which look like the Woodfield Mall in its heyday) but then stops and admits he was just let go, and if any of the parents in attendance are hiring, he’s looking for work — and oh by the way, that @&%!$ Arthur at the back of the classroom is the guy who fired him.
Arthur then tells the class (which includes Daniel’s daughter) he fired Daniel because Daniel was having an affair with his married assistant. Arthur and Daniel proceed to head to the parking to settle things via a bare-knuckled brawl.
That’s it. That’s the scene that made it all the way through every conceivable roadblock on its way to the final cut. A widowed father is fired for having an affair — and just a few hours later, the widowed father who dismissed HIM cruelly reveals the details of the termination to a classroom that includes the now-unemployed man’s 12-year-old daughter!
And then the two middle-aged men head outside to settle things with a violent fistfight.
The whole episode comes across as sour and mean-spirited. It’s virtually impossible to envision how it could possibly work in a light comedy-drama.
• • •
Almost everything in “A Happening of Monumental Proportions” transpires in one of two locales: the depressingly generic school, or the distractingly huge publishing company headquarters. We know certain aspects of the multiple storylines will eventually connect — but the expected payoffs are either unsatisfying, or simply discarded along the way.
And what a waste of such a deep cast!
Allison Janney’s chief administrator is a one-dimensional character who runs the school with humorless inadequacy, and the usually hilarious Rob Riggle is stuck in a forgettable role as her bumbling second-in-command. (A running gag about them dealing with the sudden death of a groundskeeper on school property is failed-sitcom-level bad.)
Katie Holmes stops by as a paramedic who has had it with people who don’t understand what paramedics actually do. John Cho and Kumail Nanjiani pop in for a scene or two. Jennifer Garner is the aforementioned married assistant who has an affair with Common’s Daniel and seems more than a little unhinged.
In all of these cases, it feels as if the actors in question said something like, “Sure, Judy Greer, I’d be happy to appear in your movie!” and never saw the entire script. (I could be wrong, but it wouldn’t make the movie any better.)
The weirdest glorified cameo — by far — comes courtesy of Keanu Reeves as “Bob,” who knows his wife is having an affair with Daniel, and insists they meet up so they can compare “height, weight, the way we pronounce multisyllabic words” — and yes, that measuring stick as well.
By that point, “A Happening of Monumental Proportions” has already come up way short.
‘A Happening of Monumental Proportions’
Great Point Media presents a film directed by Judy Greer and written by Gary Lundy. Rated R (for sexual content and language). Running time: 81 minutes. Opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque.