, 86 min, 2008
Director: Steve Conrad
Writer: Steve Conrad
Stars: Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Chris Conrad
The Promotion is a human comedy that is quiet, subtle, uneven and fitfully funny. It’s a slice of life about competition bringing out the best and (mostly) the worst in people.
Seann William Scott is Doug Stauber, a devoted employee in his early 30s who works for a Chicago supermarket chain. He is on the fast track – well, more like cruising speed (not too fast, not too slow) – toward becoming a manager for a new location opening up. One day, he receives some competition in the form of former druggie Richard Wehlner (John C. Reilly), from Canada, also in his 30s, who has just transferred from Quebec and who also has his eyes on the new location’s manager position.
Doug feels he’s earned this outright through years of hard work, and that nobody – even as qualified as Richard – deserves it as much as he does. Doug is married to Jen (Jenna Fischer, from TV’s The Office), who thinks of going to night school but for the husband who claims he can provide for her, buy her a dream house, etc. Richard himself is married to the Scottish Lori (the always welcome Lili Taylor) and has kids. He lacks some confidence, seems like a nice guy, listens to self help tapes to motivate himself in all the right ways to be a model employee and a good person. Doug also seems like a nice guy, motivated as well with a slightly different angle on morality and fairness.
The film consists of scene after scene of awkward, sometimes funny, hit-and-miss behavior that could be construed as that of two sociopaths. The men try to one-up one another and sometimes play downright dirty in an effort to impress their supervisor (Gil Bellows of TV’s Ally McBeal) and win the position. There can be only one.
Having worked in a supermarket, I appreciated how spot-on the details of the supermarket and how it worked were. I liked that Doug hates working the parking lot and that he got sentenced to it for a week straight as punishment. I liked the comment cards by customers who were upset at how shoddy a job he was doing in the parking lot. Above all else, it was unclear to me if either of these guys was supposed to be likable or not.
The film is the directorial debut of Steve Conrad (The Weather Man), who also wrote the screenplay. What’s funny about this, if anything, are the observations made by Doug in his voice-over, the attention to detail, and the obsessive relationship these two men forge over this one thing. It’s all kind of slight and innocuous, and not without laughs, but never quite achieves liftoff. In the end, it left me rather indifferent.