8 Minutes Idle (2014)

After being kicked out of his mother’s house, twentysomething Dan (Tom Hughes) has to face the harsh reality of life as a homeless person working a dead-end job. Well, not really, but he does, along with his cat, move into his office, which is at a call center. He makes a bed in the janitor’s closet and puts the cat in the ceiling. This is now where he lives. At a call center. Could you imagine? That’s the set-up of 8 Minutes Idle, which is based on the novel by Matt Thorne. You may have heard of it. It won awards, you know.

The film is ostensibly a comedy set in this office space — see what I did there? — although it often takes large detours outside the office, too, even if it does primarily focus on the workers. Dan’s father (Paul Kaye) is in hospital after a hit-and-run — they both think Dan’s mother is behind it — so Dan occasionally visits him for life lessons. The workstation at which Dan sits during work hours is populated by Adrienne (Antonia Thomas), Dev (Divian Ladwa), and Teri (Ophelia Lovibond), and is overlooked by the manager, Alice (Montserrat Limbard).

Whenever we’re in the office, it seems like the filmmakers wanted to enact sketches more than follow a conventional plot. There’s an overarching one involving a will-they-won’t-they romance between Dan and Teri, the boss who wants to fire one of her employees, and the aimlessness of lives the characters are living, but most of the time we only drop into the office to see something “funny” happen. I put funny in quotation marks because that goal is only accomplished every so often. Many of 8 Minutes Idle‘s jokes fall flat.

It’s offbeat and there are a few big laughs — my favorite probably involved a joke involving cancer and diabetes, which should tell you enough about me right now — but for the most part it works better as a drama, as a romance, or as an observation. Watching Dan attempt to improve his life despite the numerous obstacles, or the budding romance between he and Dani, or even the random encounters in the office — that’s all more effective than many of the attempts at humor.

Outside of the office is where 8 Minutes Idle really begins to work. These trips only account for maybe 25% of the film but contain most of its heart and also ties these sketches together. This is where the narrative progresses and the characters grow. The jokes are even less frequent here but it doesn’t matter because the film around them is so much more solid, assured, and heartfelt. Watching a montage of Dan’s random late-night activities in the office is fine, but seeing our crew out at a night club allows for real drama.

Here’s what I would have liked to see: Dan’s new living situation actually matter. This gives Dan a reason to essentially live in the office, which brings about its own quirks, but it doesn’t seem to matter to him or anyone else as much as you’d think. Nor does it factor into the plot. It’s the central conceit and it barely matters. Have that matter more and we might have an even better movie.

It’s not that it’s difficult to enjoy 8 Minutes Idle. It’s easy, in fact. I had a good time while watching it. But there are films whose potential you can see never reached, and this is one of those times. It’s not balanced, it doesn’t explore some of its potentially more interesting situations, and it often feels offbeat simply for the sake of it. Many of the jokes are too easy, and the secondary characters are oddball because they have to represent exaggerations of real-world personalities, nothing else.

As a slacker, Tom Hughes has the perfect face and general attitude to be believable. When the film is about those young adults drifting through life, that’s important. His demeanor never changes throughout the film, and that works out surprisingly well. The supporting cast — Lovibond, Thomas, Ladwa, Lombard, and Kaye — play quirky, interesting characters well. About the only one not playing a caricature is Lovibond, and that’s only because her character needed more depth due to being the primary love interest.

If you happen to live in Bristol, well, the film is set there so you can be happy, I guess. Presumably some of the on-location shots are of semi-famous landmarks. And there’s one extraordinarily positive speech about people who live in Bristol being the most awesome people ever, or something. 8 Minutes Idle is a low-budget film that needed to use Kickstarter just to secure distribution. These are two statements that have little in common but I wanted to mention both of them. You’re welcome.

Part of me wants to support 8 Minutes Idle for simply existing, let alone being a good deal of fun. It has some good laughs but it’s more of a success when it deals with its characters and their drama and romance, rather than performing lackluster skits similar to The Office. When it takes the characters out of their office setting, it’s deeper and more heartfelt. It’s consistently entertaining, even if many of its secondary characters are caricatures rather than feeling like real people. Good acting, enough jokes, some real heart, and an enjoyable watch.

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