A woman gets stuck in a Red Lobster commercial. That is the helluva succinct elevator pitch for Robin Comisar's short film that recently graced the Ryerson screen of Toronto's Midnight Madness.
Great Choice meticulously recreates said Red Lobster advert from the early 1990s -- or possibly from the late 1980s, as all these ads were pretty much the same formula -- right down to the robotic smiles, the copious amounts of food platters betting moved around, inserts of flaming grills, and squirting lemon juice. Inspired, perhaps, by the viral sensation Too Many Cooks from 2014, here, instead of a sitcom opening, it is the 30-second spot which runs again and again, as the characters (actors? people?) become self-aware of the personal hell that is a chain restaurant, particularly in its idealized television form.
In a casting coup of sorts, said woman is played by Carrie Coons (Gone Girl, The Leftovers, Fargo S1), albeit with the VHS tracking distortion, large spectacles and the blouse-y period fashion, you might not notice. As the commercial begins to loop, first it is a twitch of the eyes, then questioning looks, then direct action as she fights the waiter, the script, and even the video aesthetic to climb back to reality.
It is a clever and fun concept that does not outstay its welcome at seven minutes. Ubiquitous character actor Morgan Spector (The Drop, The Mist) and Jordan Gelber (the star of Todd Solondz's Dark Horse) also appear, as the woman's server-nemesis, and eventual sanctuary, as her mediated world begins to disintegrate. The short is delightfully DIY in execution, and spot-on in its observation on how the most mundane, background element of broadcast television can become existential horror under the right circumstances.
Not a stranger to repurposing media in unusual and energetic ways, the previous short film ran at Midnight Madness was The Chickening, which slathered copious special effects and music The Shining, painted over with copious special effects to become the most vulgar Fried Chicken Joint infomercial ever made. Both were hits with an audience that is savvy for this sort of idea and tone.