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And Now a Word from Our Sponsor | Review

Commercial Failure: Bernbaum’s Debut DOA

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor Zack Bernbaum PosterWhat sounds good on paper doesn’t always translate well on screen, and Zack Bernbaum’s directorial debut, And Now a Word from Our Sponsor, exemplifies the delirious dangers of gimmicky filmmaking. A cutesy idea that doesn’t seem far removed from something that could have easily been a wooden studio feature top lining Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler, sinks like a lead balloon within its establishing frames. Instead of making any attempt to redirect from the predictable trajectory outlined by its feeble premise, Bernbaum, together with Michael Hamilton-Wright’s naggingly insistent screenplay, instead plunge head long into its flat concept, a stubborn perseverance that makes its slight running time a grueling test of patience.

Opening with a montage of famous commercials, we find the collapsed body of Adan Kundle (Bruce Greenwood), unconscious in a white room filled with static television sets. It turns out he was the CEO of a major advertising company, but he had disappeared over a year ago. When he awakens from his slumber at the hospital, it seems he can only speak in advertising slogans. The hospital seems to be in a tizzy to unload him in an assisted living home, but there don’t seem to be any openings for a week. Miraculously, the head of the hospital’s charity foundation, Karen Hilldridge (Parker Posey), used to be a student/follower of the great Kundle, and reluctantly agrees to bring him home to her house while he awaits a spot in assisted living. However, Karen has problems of her own at home with her rebellious daughter, Meghan (Allie MacDonald), and the publicized resurfacing of Adan has the temp CEO of his company, Lucas Foster (Callum Blue), scrambling to find a legal loophole to take permanent seizure of the advertising company.

Ironically, a film so deeply enmeshed in the world of advertising can’t seem to even drum up a catchy tagline for itself, its tongue-in-cheek title making you wish that the only words being issued from a sponsor should be an apology by the time the credits roll. Obviously, Bernbaum’s flick will coast along on the indie cred reputation of names like Parker Posey and Bruce Greenwood, though audiences will perhaps wonder what could have possibly drawn either of them to the project beyond a paycheck.

For her part, Posey gives us her likeable charm and usual shtick, but her thinly drawn character soon falls under the shadow of Greenwood’s obnoxiously grating performance. An attempt to make the aging actor a boyishly charming buffoon feels unforgivably miscalculated, and it’s a chore to slog through any scenes not involving Posey (whose star turn in other recent titles, like Price Check or Happy Tears are much more worthy of her caliber). It’s hard to recall a similar insanity contrivance used to such ill effect, but Greenwood’s slogan spouting savant is about as wickedly maddening as Janet Margolin’s character in Frank Perry’s 1962 debut, David & Lisa, where she plays an unstable woman who communicates only in singsong rhymes.

A feeble story line with nonexistent conflicts and zero characterization, the one enjoyable moment in And Now a Word from Our Sponsor happens to be its opening montage of commercials, all of which feature exciting, even cutting edge ideas in advertising. The look of the film is equally interminable, with Stephen Chandler Whitehead, who has worked on many short films and some television credits, lands his first feature credit as DP here. Attention to detail was also neglected in other departments, as a casual exchange of dialogue concerning Posey’s character and some kerfluffle with an underling about her car seems bizarre when we see her driving around in a late 90s Cavalier. When Posey confronts Greenwood in a moment of admonishment declaring “You can’t just flip the channel whenever you don’t like what see in front of you,” all you can do is smile and triumphantly acknowledge that at least you retain the right to do so here.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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