Lawrence & Holloman serves its comedy nihilistically black

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Starring Daniel Arnold and Ben Cotton. Rating unavailable.

There is black comedy, and then there is the gaping, lightless chasm that fuels the laughs in this new local flick.

Cowriters Daniel Arnold and Matthew Kowalchuk (who also directs) rightly saw the potential in Vancouver playwright Morris Panych’s macabre little 1998 two-hander. It’s not an easy task tackling the morbid humour here, but this local team pulls it off, thanks to some pitch-perfect characterizations and assured lensing.

Whereas Panych’s work played out starkly on a surreal set, Kowalchuk mines the potential of film to add characters, show imagined scenarios, and make the heinous accidents alluded to in the script hideously (and hilariously) real. It all takes place in a bleak landscape of office cubicles, fluorescent-lit department stores, and wood-panelled elevators.

Arnold plays it nerdy and tightly wound as Holloman, a suicidal accounting clerk who hooks up with Lawrence, the perennially optimistic suit salesman at the department store where he works. The rubber-faced and -limbed Ben Cotton plays Lawrence like a sort of happy-go-lucky golden retriever, a goofy smile permanently pasted to his face and one of those asshole-ish Bluetooths clipped to his ear from the moment he wakes up to his clock radio playing “Keep on the Sunny Side”.

He’s not too bright, however: taking his grim protégé under his wing, he advises him to “stop emphasizing with losers”. Cotton is shamelessly unleashed here: watch the physical comedy when he gets attacked by wasps, or the way he thrusts and grunts every time he tries to encourage Holloman to get laid. (Katharine Isabelle has a nice turn as the sarcastic lingerie clerk that’s the object of Holloman’s affections.)

But Holloman’s bad luck seems to be contagious, and Lawrence’s life starts to go gruesomely wrong. What eventually happens is a gradual role reversal as Holloman becomes more confident and sarcastic around his deluded mentor.

Like the play, the film is less about what happens—not a lot once the role reversal shifts into gear—and more about questions like: is our happiness directly related to our outlook on life? And more importantly, are stupid people happier?

In the final act, the film goes truly dark, getting its closest to creating Panych’s stylized, existential world—one more akin to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead than to the rest of the movie’s deadpan Office Space vibe. For those who like their comedy served nihilistically black, this is where they’ll reap the biggest rewards. For those who prefer to keep on the sunny side? Maybe spend your summer day elsewhere.

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