Review of Write When You Get Work (SXSW 2018)
by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.
Viewers might consider this film as another in the genre of anti-hero comedy. When it is difficult to place the actions in some framework of reality, the plot becomes absurd, and absurdity can only be placed in the comic genre. Often, the absurdity comes from a juxtaposition of ideas that seem incompatible—in this case, the good-hearted criminal.
In short, the story in Write When You Get Work is about a couple who considers resuming their passionate but troubled relationship after nine years. Ruth (Rachel Keller) now has a respectable job. On the other hand, Johnny (Finn Wittrock) is still selfish and shiftless—he has nearly perfected the art of scamming. In the first act, the big questions raised are these: Will Johnny be able to weasel his way back into Ruth’s life? Will he erase the gains she made over the last decade, or will she manage to pull him up to her level? On a less conventional level, the viewer may ask if Johnny’s proposed transformation means will mean he gives up crime completely. Or, will Ruth de-evolve as a character if Johnny manages to make her fall in love with him again?
Why are there so many film characters with this dual nature? Because we all live lives of paradox, trying to be better people, but at the same time, we fail on a daily basis. And who among us is good enough to cast the first stone?
On the less conventional level of film appreciation, we look for cautionary tales—we enjoy watching a character we identify with go through a crisis. In this way, we test drive the consequences. They become our vicars in doing things we have not, nor will not, try ourselves. The trouble is, a filmmaker can wrongly depict the consequences of a character’s transgression. In fact, one’s vicar may become a malignant social model in convincing us it is safe to extend our ethical frameworks. Moreover, the more we identify with a character, the more likely we allow them to define our morality.
The film ends with a somewhat satisfying twist, but this is not a great movie. The fuzzy lines of good/bad are further clouded by the holes in the plot. Also, a character who seemed to be a moral anchor for many of the characters dies right away—the character called Coach (apparently uncredited)—it is his wake that brings the circle of friends back in contact. While they all seemed to have appreciated his positive guidance at one point in their lives—it is mentioned only in passing—he and his influence are easily forgotten in the end.