Bob Odenkirk seems to be riding a rising wave. His “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul” has been a hit. His reunion with “Mr. Show” partner David Cross was met with generally positive reviews. After decades of comedy nerd adoration, the general public is starting to realize the quality of his performances. Noting all that, it’s nice to still see him taking chances on such a quirky property as “Girlfriend’s Day.”
Odenkirk and another longtime partner, Eric Hoffman, deliver a script mixing a heaping scoop of noir, a heavy dose of absurdism, and a dash of romance, and you’ll get “Girlfriend’s Day.” The film hinges on an alternate reality where greeting card writers are celebrities. After a day of knocking out Mother’s Day poems and birthday jokes, these writers haunt a bar named “Card Sharps” and pick up greeting card groupies. Odenkirk plays the deposed king of this bizarre fiefdom, a romance writer rocked by his wife’s departure. In the first five minutes, he’s lost his job, his wife, and seemingly his sanity.
The film flashes forward to Odenkirk now reduced to babysitting his landlord’s nephew and converting his apartment into a yard sale. Facing imminent eviction, he’s enlisted by his former boss to clandestinely work on a card for a soon to be revealed holiday, the eponymous “Girlfriend’s Day.” From here, he’s pulled into the literally cutthroat world of romance card creation.
In a way, this film is reminiscent of Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Shakes the Clown.” Both movies take a profession and treat it with a surreal seriousness. The only thing missing was an analog to Shakes’ animosity for mimes. It’s easy to picture Odenkirk’s crew squaring off over territory with fortune cookie writers. The second half of “Girlfriend’s Day” also draws from the classic gumshoe stories like “The Maltese Falcon.” All the tropes are present, female temptress, dirty cop, shady millionaire. The Macguffin ends up being a card that gets treated a lot like Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. Characters crack it open, but the contents are never revealed.
Odenkirk is paired opposite the capable Amber Tamblyn. Despite the age difference, the chemistry between the two feels natural. There’s definitely a few other recognizable faces. Stacey Keach and Andy Richter both have bit parts, torturing the protagonist both emotionally and physically. The casting director also did an excellent job fleshing out the minor characters. June Diane Raphael, who you may recognize from another Netflix original, ”Grace and Frankie”, gets the perfect assist from the costume department as Odenkirk’s ex-wife. (If you enjoy terrible movies, check out her podcast “How Did This Get Made?”) The best supporting cast member is definitely Toby Huss, from the incomparable “Halt and Catch Fire.” In this, he plays a pivotal role as a passionate ex-racist. A character that deserves his own spin-off.
Going back to terrible movies. Fans of terrible movies may recognize director Michael Stephenson’s name. As a kid, he appeared in the now infamous “Troll 2.” Years later, he documented that experience in the entertaining “Best Worst Movie.” Stephenson does an apt job of juggling the opposing tones of “Girlfriend’s Day.” Maybe watching an Italian auteur mawkishly crash through a horror film taught Stephenson by negative example. Either way, he seems like a talent to keep an eye on.
P.S. See if you recognize the narrator.