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SXSW 2021: “Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break” Film Review

UPDATE 3/17: I watched this film on March 14 and wrote the review the next day, March 15. Since then, there has been a mass shooting / hate crime in Atlanta, which was mainly perpetrated against women of Asian descent. The suspect was said to have had “a bad day” by the police chief, who has also been revealed to have made racist social media posts in the past year. I do not want this movie or this review to be tainted by real-world horror, and I do not want to pretend like awful things don’t happen in reality (and especially in the U.S.). This review is of the movie and its characters.

Part of SXSW’s 2021 Narrative Spotlight film category, “Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break” is a British dark comedy of sorts about one man’s terrible day — and what he decides to do about it.

Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) is a middle-aged man who still lives with his “mum” (June Watson) and works in a secondhand shop in the mall. He doesn’t have many friends, aside from the mall’s cleaning lady, Clemmie (Katherine Parkinson), who is also a bit of an outcast. He’s clearly a performer, and his biggest dream is to audition for “The Trend Ladder Talent Show” to gain fame and make money to help out his mother, who fully supports him and even makes his audition costume. But his coworker Bruce (Jarred Christmas) lets him know that the auditions aren’t next week — they’re that day.

Paul and his mother try to get to the auditions on time, but it seems everything is standing in their way. When they finally get to the location, the American show host Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) tells him they’re an hour late, but allows him to audition anyway once he realizes that Paul is live streaming. Paul introduces his act with the phrase “I’m Paul Dood, and I’m here to get you in the mood.” While Paul dances, Jack Tapp reveals himself to be a peace of work; he’s repeatedly insulting Paul and complains: “If we were in the States right now, this guy wouldn’t have made it near me. He would’ve been shot.” And then, we find out that Paul’s mum has passed during this short period of time.

It’s around this point that the film, directed wonderfully by Nick Gillespie, turns from a comedy to a much darker comedy. When the movie begins with the Margaret Atwood quote “If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged,” it sets the audience up for something dark and disturbing. But “Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break” is, for the most part, a laugh-out-loud, if uncomfortable British comedy.

Once Paul finally breaks and gets his “Joker” moment — even saying “I am going to right all the wrongs that have happened to me and my mum” — there is plenty of gore. The filmmakers seemed to mostly stick with practical effects, which are very (for lack of a better term) effective and memorable. When you think of a deadly rampage, you likely aren’t thinking of what this movie offers. It’s always creative, often distressing and mostly still funny. And Paul is an incredibly fun and sympathetic character to watch, believe it or not. Gillespie, the film’s director, says, “Just like all of the other characters in the film Paul is flawed and fallible, which to me makes him lovable and real as he stands up to his bullies and fights for what he believes in.”

Aside from the practical effects, another thing to love about “Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break” is the costuming: Paul and his mum wear a lot of sequins, which leads to plenty of David Bowie jokes from one of the cops who’s looking for him, and Jack Tapp wears a lot of obnoxious clothes and hats. The music is another great aspect, as the movie starts with an incredible ’80s vibe, and it ends up closing out with “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls, but there’s a lot of synth during the film’s run time too.

A big part of the film’s plot deals with social media and fame as well. Trend Ladder is not only on the name of the talent show, but is also a social media platform that appears to be a melding of YouTube and Facebook. Using a chest cam setup and his smartphone, Paul live streams throughout the movie, and it sometimes moves into the found footage genre. The only time this doesn’t work, unfortunately, is at the climax of the film, where it just becomes a bit of a mess, logically speaking. The acting, plot and jokes are still there, but the methodology behind the live stream becomes far-fetched at best.

Even if the premise of the movie (“man has one bad day and wants revenge on everyone”) doesn’t appeal to you, this movie is so different that I believe it’s worth checking out. If you can’t handle gore, this one might be hard to get through, but it’s also a fun and heartfelt film that’s worth checking out.

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