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“That’s what severance is?!” This line is at its core the backbone to what John Launchi’s debut film Laid Off shows us about the culture of climbing the corporate ladder and never stopping to look at what it is you are actually doing. Dealing with the “quarter-life crisis” as the press kit coins, this comedy is relatable to any twenty-something out there that has ever questioned the direction their life was headed. Landing a cushy job in finance to support a yuppie lifestyle and materialistic women right out of college may seem like the jackpot on paper, but only when it’s gone do you wake up to the realization your career sucks, your girl is using you, and you’ve wasted two unhappy years with nothing to show for them. Mike Lagante is introduced to us in this exact situation, getting laid off for budgetary reasons, confused and dejected towards his next step. He has eight weeks severance pay coming, but wants to get right back on the horse to take the next rung up the ladder he’s been ingrained from the beginning to climb.

Taking a page from slacker comedies like Office Space, Laid Off treads its own path forward. Ripe with common clichés and skit-like sequences, the film doesn’t fall pray to becoming just another derivative of overused subject matter. Corporate culture plays a large role in the proceedings, but the key fact to remember is the two leads lose their job within the first ten minutes. It’s not about slacking off to get fired or kissing up to stay employed, the plot written by Launchi and Michael Ryan concerns two men’s quest to find meaning in their lives when all constraints are removed. Mike and best friend Jimmy Ryan are unencumbered by schedules, responsibilities, or shower necessity; they have eight weeks to live it up carefree or look to stay on task and pick themselves back up. While Mike is the gung-ho man on a path, seeing a recruiter, refusing marijuana, and doing his best to pick up the pieces, Jimmy’s laisez faire sensibilities start to drag his friend down into the abyss of blackout nights and mornings that commence at 2 pm.

As a result, there is a multitude of hysterical exchanges and events taking place. The writers have infused the script with an improv feel and acceptance of the art form, throwing in pop culture references at will, resonating with the post-collegiate confused, angry, stressed, all of the above audience they’re targeting. Right from the start you can see the direction these guys are steering us. Leads Mike (C.J. Moebius) and Jimmy (co-writer Ryan himself) engage two co-workers with conversation of the crazy night previous, ripping on one about his Patty Mayonnaise-looking sleeping partner right before the trio hum the theme song to “Doug” to get their point across. I fell in love right then and there for the dialogue, laughing at Goonies mentions, “Saved By the Bell” philosophizing, and the king of all name drops, Mario’s own evil mustachioed foe Wario. It also doesn’t hurt that so many cast members are “Upright Citizen Brigade” actors, adding a comedic timing and expertise I’ve enjoyed ever since the short lived Comedy Central show.

One of the funniest moments comes from one such actor, Aaron Glaser, and his cohort Tommy Olivo as Chris and Jack respectively. The two egg Jimmy on to prove he hasn’t lost his touch with the ladies, commentating the exchange as haughty golf program announcers to its inevitable face slapping conclusion. And then comes more priceless scenes with characters such as the men’s ex-boss Bill (Harold Field) who is very obviously romantically inclined towards Mike, Jimmy’s too-good for his son father in the midst of his own mid-life crisis, dating his son’s old classmate, played by John Sialiano, and the best supporting role of them all from Patrick Murray as Jimmy’s brother Dug. This guy is in a constant state of fog from drugs and alcohol, sleep-walking through existence yet always keeping his head for pithy thoughts despite their complete lack of relevance to the situation he’s in at the time. Murray is the wild card who comes in and out constantly, adding a little spice to the already straight-man/jokester dynamic formed by Moebius and Ryan at its center.

But here is where Laid Off sets itself apart from generic fare and shows why it’s been winning consistently at film festivals around the country—as well as an inclusion at the Cannes Independent Fest in France alongside it’s more widely-known big brother. Right when you feel Moebius’s inability to unwind and Ryan’s absolute disregard for moral decency will be too much, the two characters flip personas and take a turn as each other. Mike Lagante gradually wakes to the fact he hates his life, thinks he struck out with his attractive job recruiter Rachel (UCB-alum Jennifer Bartels) and decides to take Dug up on his pot offer, devolving into a burned out loser drinking forties at 10 am. At the same time, though, Jimmy trips his way into a date with Angela, a beautiful woman (another UCBer in Andrée Vermeulen) who is not only gainfully employed as a real estate agent, but also has a seven year old son. Talk about growing up, he falls into the first stable relationship of his life, turning into a man with goals and aspirations, now fearing for his friend’s well-being as Mike becomes entrenched in Jimmy’s own old habits.

At heart, both Mike and Jimmy are guys who like to have fun and desire to be successful in life. The former feels he’s a disappointment to his father by losing the job he was ‘groomed’ to obtain and the latter’s Dad just throws money at him so as not to actually pretend to care. So, it is up to them both to find out who they truly want to be, watching as the other morphs into the mirror-image of what they once were, finding that a happy medium is where it’s at—with a slight dab of alpha male assertiveness added in to keep people honest of course. Launchi and Ryan have culled together all the tough times from their own pasts in order to portray this mass catharsis on screen, baring their souls in the medium they’ve decided upon to be the dream driving their lives forward. And hey, if they can write and/or act a scene such as Jimmy and Angela’s first date at home with an Italian cooked and performed wait staff comprised of Mike at his most Guido, complete with a one-man, Madonna-loving mariachi played by Oscar Magallanes, to be as hilarious as it is, they’ve definitely chosen the correct profession.

Laid Off 7/10

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photography:
[1] Michael Ryan as Jimmy Ryan and C.J. Moebius as Mike Lagante
[2] Andrée Vermeulen as Angela Bolio, Oscar Magallanes as the Day Laborer Mariachi, Ryan and Moebius

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