“People just use the night as an excuse to be someone completely different”
Write what you know. These are fortune cookie words of wisdom, but they aren’t wrong. Our own lives are often strange and interesting enough to form the basis of a sitcom because they’re simultaneously universal and unique. Viewers relate to a sense of “common man” humanity, especially when thrust into a chaotic occupation dealing with eclectic characters every shift for as long as your tenure lasts. Think cashiers, salesmen, wait staff—you name it. We’ve all had similar jobs and we all have our own stories up our sleeves to provide as anecdotes at parties. So it’s nice when you’re able to acknowledge you’re not alone. It’s nice to see something like Clerks hit upon the zeitgeist and excel through words and experiences rather than an overbearing plot.
Life is plot. To punch-in and endure an entire shift without losing your sanity is all the A-to-B you need as long as you’re able to fill the in-between with comedy. So it’s unsurprising that real life New York City doorman J. Antonio would use the Kevin Smith model to film his own crazy experiences on the clock. He utilizes the same black and white aesthetic, keeps everything character-based and dialogue-driven, and allows the myriad strangers to be perfectly over-the-top contrasts to his lead James (Jason Torres) in order to keep him endearing and relatable. Night Job is about New York as much as it is about being a doorman within. And it’s as much about surviving the doldrums of boredom as the unpredictability of late-night creatures unchained.
The biggest difference between this and Smith’s star-maker is that Antonio doesn’t supply James a dedicated foil. There’s no Randall to his Dante and therefore no consistent sounding board with which to watch him grow. A few attempts are made with a friend via text and the recipient of his unrequited love, but neither of these unseen characters provides us insight beyond what we already know. Torres’ performance—a mixture of awkwardness, uncertainty, and a can-do attitude that enhances both through its incongruity—allows us to understand he’s a “good guy” immediately. Talking about his wanting a relationship above sex corroborates this fact, but it also becomes repetitive without a Randall to naturally evolve the conversation. James instead just says the same thing to different people.
There are few callbacks at all with any true substance to engage beyond the surface joke despite Antonio setting up the possibility for many. Pains are taken to express how the day doorman (Larese King) he’s sending home upon arrival will put in a good word if he does well, but we don’t see him at shift’s end. We listen to a worker across the street named Julio (Kutcha) bust James’ balls and ask him to watch his car, but there’s no punch line to tell us whether the car survived the night or went missing during moments when the door was left unoccupied. So rather than create an atmosphere of authenticity and consequences, the whole becomes a loosely connected series of goofs without rhyme or reason.
It becomes overwhelming because so much happens in one night. Rather than merge characters together, we’re inundated with one unforgettable encounter after another. For example: Lori Hamilton‘s Ellen and Bettina Skye‘s Stella are similar enough to have been one character he meets twice rather than two throwaways shoehorned in with little payoff. A great exchange with Mr. Jones (Timothy J. Cox) spawns two other fun run-ins (Ismaël Sy Savané‘s disgruntled locksmith and Sabrina Dandridge‘s enraged girlfriend Giselle), but more were possible. Maybe Giselle could have returned via a taxicab to let Chris Tangredi demand payment. Maybe she could have then stay at her friend’s apartment, creating the noise compliant of 812’s occupant played by Aleka Hart. Connecting anecdotes to craft three-dimensions is possible so they aren’t all abrupt interruptions.
So tedium sets in from our simple yearning to return to those we’ve already met. I started to resent newcomers because I had to keep track of them in my mind only to later discover everyone was disposable. Add James’ dream sequence (presented in color) as lothario that doesn’t do much besides provide a thematic segue to the sex dream of a resident and I found myself disconnected. The film suddenly became about the hotel rather than James—he now merely the unfortunate pawn enduring the chaos. But I don’t think that’s Antonio’s intent. He wouldn’t give James the floor to constantly air grievances about love (or provide the potential for romance courtesy of Stacey Weckstein) if we weren’t supposed to care about him above all else.
And there is a lot to like. Enough to feel Night Job could become something special with a little tweaking. Having Greg Kritikos‘ night porter Romeo always engaged in something not his job when James radios is a memorable gag. Jaded underachievers in Lester Greene‘s DVD seller and convenience store clerks Hardy Calderon and Jose Espinal are a nice outside reprieve from hotel excess. And Brignel Camilien‘s homeless man shows that Antonio can spin a joke with patience for long-term impact. A couple more resolutions like that one and he’d be onto something. Let Julio come back to check on his car and get to know James better (and maybe even supply that sounding board to see how the night is changing him) and structure is found.
Is it fun? Yes. Is its main character relatable and its situational comedy outlandish enough to believe everything’s born from truth? Yes. Those successes alone, however, only reveal that the subject matter is ripe for the feature film treatment. You still need to shore up the foundation on which it stands. James cannot be both the subject of growth and constant with which to acknowledge said growth by comparison. It’s too much to put on one character’s shoulders and it renders the most interesting piece of the puzzle the most immovable. He has the potential of absorbing his experiences rather than simply being there so we can enjoy the periphery players around him. I think that’s what makes Clerks indelible and this an enjoyable retread with unfulfilled promise.