Admit it, as much as you may love your job, some days you just feel like sticking it to your boss and co-workers. It’s an irresistible fantasy that movies like Office Space and Falling Down tapped into, bringing to life peoples’ visions of lashing out at a world that condones shoving people into cubicles and wiping away all traces of their individuality. Unfortunately, reality is a lot more grim, as way too many accept this situation without so much as a hint of protest. It’s this world that the French drama Time Out is firmly entrenched in. Time Out is a rather melancholy film that doesn’t depress viewers into submission but rather delicately invites them for a glimpse at the sad, desperate, and surprisingly compelling life of its lead character.
Our story begins with middle-aged office drone Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) asleep in his car. Throughout the rest of the day, he phones home to his wife, letting her know about last-minute meetings and clients that are going to make him late for supper. But it’s obvious from how Vincent drives around aimlessly and hangs about rest areas that he’s keeping a rather important secret: he’s lost his job. But instead of telling his family and starting from scratch, Vincent pretends that everything’s hunky-dory. In fact, he even invents a story about transferring jobs and working for the United Nations. After a while, he also concocts phony schemes for his friends and family to invest in, supplying him with enough money to buy a new car and support his wife and kids. But when people start getting nosy about his new career and want to see the results of those investments, Vincent finds himself scrambling for a way out, as the mountain of lies that’s been covering up the truth slowly starts to crumble.
David Mamet may not have written Time Out, but traces of the man’s knack for studying masculinity in its various forms can most certainly be found within it. You could almost consider the film to be a continuation of Mamet’s own Glengarry Glen Ross, for both features show men whose places in the workforce are threatened (or, in Time Out’s case, taken away) struggling to maintain an air of normalcy. The idea behind Time Out isn’t whether or not Vincent will get his job back but rather how long it takes before his ruse starts to fall apart, how far he can go along deluding himself and pretending to others that everything’s alright. So yeah, sorry to break it to the more impatient readers out there, but this involves Vincent contemplating his situation — a lot of contemplating.
But don’t take this to mean that Vincent just wanders around and stares blankly at nothing for two hours. Director/co-writer Laurent Cantet (Human Resources) takes this time to examine the culture that spawned someone like Vincent, who’s left without the slightest hint of what to do when he’s unceremoniously dumped from his workplace. One scene in particular really stands out, in which Vincent travels to Switzerland, stops by some random office, and blends in perfectly with the real workers, walking around unnoticed for a disturbing amount of time. That, combined with how Vincent fools those around him with just a handful of information he read out of a pamphlet, is a pretty sad piece of commentary on the world of business today, in which sounding like you know what you’re talking about gets you just as far as actually knowing it.
At this point, you might be wondering how come Vincent just doesn’t man up and find himself a new job for real, instead of digging himself deeper into trouble by lying about having one. I thought the same thing while watching Time Out, and although it did tend to nag at me from time to time, I sort of let it slide. In the same way that slasher movies wouldn’t exist if some dumb idiot didn’t check for a weird noise in the very woods the killer was lurking in, the meat and potatoes of Time Out wouldn’t be so if Vincent wasn’t on a delusional quest to maintain the status quo. It goes without saying that Cantet’s film is much more fascinating than some grisly shocker, with the isolation Vincent feels enhanced by the stark cinematography and landscapes he frequently finds himself alone in. Then there’s the matter of Recoing’s performance, one that truly speaks louder than words and conveys all the sadness and inner turmoil of a man at odds with what to do with his life without beating the viewer over the head with grandiose monologues.
Those who had a blast watching Michael Douglas go to town in Falling Down will be disappointed that Time Out hardly offers up an action-packed equal. What it does provide, however, is a story that’s even more intriguing, a nimbly-assembled suburban nightmare that manages to be frightening on a whole other level.