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Review: Two Sharp Performances Stranded By Limp Satire In ‘And Now A Word From Our Sponsor’

Review: Two Sharp Performances Stranded By Limp Satire In 'And Now A Word From Our Sponsor'

There’s a nugget of a great
satire within Zack Bernbaum’s “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor,” which begins
with the discovery of missing advertising wizard Adan Kundle (Bruce Greenwood).
A year has passed since the eccentric head of Kundle Advertising walked out of
his office and disappeared, found passed out in front of a row of televisions
in an electronics store. Physically, he’s fine: Greenwood is a perfect casting
choice as a man seemingly born to sell. It’s fitting that despite a solid
collection of big-screen roles, Greenwood has always seemed more at home on television. Distinguished but with a devilish
grin, Greenwood can’t help but always seem like he’s just stepped out of a
Gillette commercial.

In the hospital, he wakes to the
face of Karen Hillridge (Parker Posey), a former student from Kundle’s
advertising workshop twenty years prior. Karen is now in charge of marketing
and glad-handing for the hospital, owes much of her success to Kundle, and
jumps at the sight of him like a former groupie. Except beyond the natural
intelligence that Greenwood radiates, Kundle has emerged from his stupor
speaking exclusively in advertising slogans. Some of his comments seem oddly
appropriate to the situation (“Got milk?”) while others become something of a
zen koan in the moment (“Some of our best men are women”). And still others
seem like utter gibberish.

From this point, it doesn’t seem
clear as to which story is being told. Adan is discharged into Karen’s hands
and she takes him home for some reason, only to be approached by acting Kundle
CEO Lucas Foster (Callum Blue). Karen is a harried, somewhat resentful single
mother, and daughter Megan (Allie MacDonald) holds believable grudges; their
arguments, many of which occur in front of Adan, ring with the truth that comes
from parent and child too stubborn to admit their similarities. Comparatively,
Foster is another cartoonishly evil (and British!) exec, hellbent on prying the
company from Adan’s hands. When he learns that Adan’s conversational tact is
based on repeated, smirking deliveries of catchphrases, he goes through the
necessary steps of proving that Adan is no longer capable of running his
company, something that qualifies as a “scheme” given Foster’s gloating
avarice, even if it’s the same professional strategy literally anyone would

It’s impossible to not think
about Hal Ashby’s “Being There” in regards to this premise. While Chauncey
Gardener was looked at as some sort of genius for his repetitive nonsense and common
sense regurgitations, Adan is immediately declared a liability, treated like a
simpleton and brushed to the side when adults are talking. While Gardener
seemed to have no idea how his words were being received, Adan instead seems
fully capable of grasping what he’s being told and when he’s being insulted,
turning an air of ambiguity into simple formal messiness: what HAS happened to
Adan, and how much of him is still inside? “And Now A Word From Our Sponsor”
shows little interest in letting the audience in, even denying us an
understanding of who Adan was before his disappearance, making us wonder if he
knows what is or is not going on at his expense. And like the climactic moment
in “Being There,” there’s a magical realist moment where an unplugged
television still plays commercials for Adan’s pleasure.

Also in the neighborhood of
“Being There,” ‘Sponsor’ finds a moment where a slogan-spewing Kundle is
involved with politics, inadvertently giving a senator (Howard Rosenstein) a
new slogan for his ad campaign. However, this moment occurs in a pretty sad ad that shows the entire production’s skimpy budget, failing to depict the
influence Adan has over the world around him. ‘Sponsor’ has a wonderful, sly
point to make about how most ad slogans work because they flatter the listener,
a fact that allows all parties involved to tolerate Adan even though he appears
obnoxiously disengaged with reality. But most of the time, there are moments
like the political ad, where the project seems compromised by a meager budget
and limited scale: the bantering between Lucas Foster and his secretary feels
like the sort of thing you’d see in an Amazon sitcom pilot.

This makes the film not just
amiably vacant, but disreputable, for wasting the talents of Greenwood and
Posey, two wonderfully game performers. Posey, a national treasure who has
failed to land that perfect A-List vehicle, adds an ersatz nature to her fairly
straightforward character, excelling at physical comedy while tossing sly barbs
towards the cast: her scenes with Callum Blue blow him out of the water, but
they also work as something of a highlight reel, watching Posey go to town on
an undermanned male actor like Michael Jordan carving up the ’90s-era Knicks.
And Greenwood keeps his professional ad-man completely unflappable and
infectiously watchable: a cute end-credits outtake reveals a unique alternate
take of a certain scene where Greenwood reveals a striking singing voice while
moving through a single-take sequence, only for the other actor in the scene to
flub his only line. Says it all, really. [C]

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