With his comedy partner David Cross, Bob Odenkirk changed the face of modern comedy on the late ‘90s sketch show Mr. Show. When Mr. Show was at its best, Odenkirk and Cross employed a cinematic style on their high concept sketches, one that served as a precursor to the cinematic style employed on Key & Peele. In a brand new movie on Netflix, Odenkirk and director Mark Paul Stephenson craft what might’ve been considered one of the great sketches of Mr. Show – Girlfriend’s Day. Here is a wildly cinematic gag that plays upon the tropes of film noir while selling each and every aspect of its absurd world with a straight face. At once, Girlfriend’s Day is what represents the best of the Mr. Show thought process while simultaneously feeling the strain of stretching out a sketch to a feature length. If you’re a fan of Mr. Show and have a working knowledge of film noir tropes, Girlfriend’s Day is 70 minutes of comedic brilliance that skewers the shadows with a deadly serious sensibility.
In the offbeat world of Girlfriend’s Day, Ray (Odenkirk) used to be the romance king of the greeting card world. Since his wife left him, Ray has lost the ability to clearly state sentimentality and his cold streak results in his firing. A late night accident while drinking after his dismissal results in a hand injury, and Ray spends the next couple months scraping by in a drunken stupor unable to write. Just before the Governor of California announces a new holiday, Girlfriend’s Day, Ray is approached by his old boss Styvesan (Alex Karpovsky) to write some stuff about girlfriends under the table. Ray has unwittingly entered a dark world, one where Gundy (Stacey Keach), the owner of the greeting card company, hires Detective Miller (Kevin O’Grady) to follow him; and soon Orwell Taft (Larry Fessenden), a legendary card writer, is discovered dead. Throughout the murder and intrigue, Ray has started to find his ability to write once again thanks to the unlikely relationship formed with Jill (Amber Tamblyn), but the dark shadow surrounding Girlfriend’s Day might impede on that growing love.
The screenplay by Odenkirk, Philip Zlotorynski, and Eric von Hoffman revels in the tropes of film noir in this absurdist take. Ray is the typical everyman in these stories. He’s a broken man, drinking excessively, and entirely down on his luck. An offer too good to be true wanders into his life in a back room deal. Then he’s entered a world of murder and the mogul behind it all. Of course, there’s the dame that drives it all. Bob Odenkirk is able to encapsulate the kind of wounded hero of the noir tale, employing that same sad sack sensibility that works so well on Better Call Saul.
Don’t expect an over the top, blatant comic tone in Girlfriend’s Day. Much of the humor of the film derives from placing film noir tropes within a bizarre world where the authors of greeting cards are publicly lauded for their work. The wild absurdity of the premise is handled with a straight face at each and every turn. None of the wide array of comedic actors to appear in the movie give away that they’re in on the joke which is why the goofiness works as well as it does. However, it’s quite apparent that I fell for Girlfriend’s Day because I am familiar with the film noir origins and the straight-faced absurdity speaks to what I like in comedies of this style.
Because Girlfriend’s Day is a 70-minute movie and not a 5-minute sketch, it doesn’t sustain its comedic energy with an even flow from start to finish. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a wildly entertaining piece of comedic filmmaking intended for a very narrow, very specific audience. If you’re a fan of Mr. Show and classic film noir, Girlfriend’s Day will have you cracking up as it subverts the genre it’s spoofing with loving glee.