The Giant Mechanical Man: Love and Stilts, Detroit Style

The Giant Mechanical Man (TGMM), the Lee Kirk film starring Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Chris Messina (Six Feet Under), is for audiences who have a yen for a true romantic comedy, one that feels gentle and real, but lacks the heroine getting the runs in the middle of traffic. Or a scene where a man's chest hair is pulled off. Or a finale where an overweight, pothead/pornographer gets the beautiful blonde. It's also one, thankfully, that's never been in the vicinity of Nicholas Sparks.

If you have to place this delightful offering anywhere, TGMM is much closer in sensibility to (500) Days of Summer than to any Apatow commodity. That has a lot to do with Kirk's effortless direction, the impressive casting, cinematographer Doug Emmet's superb take on the Detroit locale, and the oddball trajectory of the love story.

This "tall" tale begins with Tim (Messina) being dumped by his live-in girlfriend (Lucy Punch). She's apparently outgrown being charmed by his lack of ambition and his profession: earning his living as a mime on stilts while dressed as a businessman with an attaché case.

Across town, the hapless Janice (Fischer), who dreams that she's losing her teeth, is fired from her temp agency for being the antithesis of Janet on Three's Company. She lacks verve and confidence, she's told. Unable to pay her rent, she moves in with her successful, condescending kid sister Jill (Malin Akerman) and her sibling's spouse (Rich Sommer).

So how do the two would-be lovers meet, wind up working at a zoo with penguins and selling grape drink while overcoming all obstacles, including a smarmily hilarious self-help guru (Topher Grace)? And why you will care?

Well, I'll at least tell you why you'll give a hoot. The chemistry between the leads is startlingly palatable. As wrong as Sarah Jessica Parker was for Hugh Grant in Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Fischer is right for Messina here. In bed and out of it, the two create a whole. If you recall that cartoon segment in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the takeoff on Aristophanes's explanation of why we are seeking our other halves, you'll instantly see that this duo melds into a plausible unit effortlessly. Together Fischer and Messina exude that practically indefinable essence that is the capability of certain actors to convince moviegoers that they are actually witnessing true love bubbling forth on the screen.

While not perfect -- and what is? -- this Tribeca Film Festival offering, which is now slowly opening around the country, is a solid summer palate cleanser to savor between all those main courses of superhero wham-a-thons. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).

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