Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Brad Copeland
Screenplay: Brad Copeland
Runtime: 87 minutes
Cast: Glenn Howerton, Steve Little, Ben Schwartz, Adrianne Palicki.
Plot: After his retrenchment in an economic downturn, Will finds a job as a website manager and spends his time working out of a local coffee shop. Finally finding office Nirvana, he spends his time drinking lattes and shooting the breeze with blasé cop Gino and social incompetent Chad, while lusting after regular customer Becca. When news arrives that their quiet haven is to be converted into a trendy bistro, the friends come up with a plan to rob the place and scuttle corporate headquarters’ plans.
Review: We live in an interesting time for the future of ‘cinema,’ or ‘films,’ or ‘movies’ in that all those names are now becoming obsolete. The secondary market of DVD and video-on-demand sales now regularly surpasses ticket sales at the box office, with 2009 being the notable exception. The new reality has lead to much tearing and rending of garments among cinephiles; with David Lynch lamenting the tiny screens and limited experiences through which audiences approach the director’s vision, and many pointing out the loss of warmth, character, and experience that comes from a shift away from film towards digital. In short, the digital revolution has not been so good to past and future masterpieces of cinema.
But for small-scale comedies it has been fantastic. Enter Coffee Town, a modest hangout movie which marks the website College Humor’s first foray into film production; another first in a continuing trend of unorthodox content providers (think Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) stepping into the original content market. Written and directed by Brad Copeland, with the backing of a veteran comedy cast, the film has limited stakes and low ambitions but delivers them with a smartness and, most importantly, humour that makes the film a success. No one is going to have their mind blown by the comedic content of Coffee Town, which rests more on its characterisations than original scenarios, but you’re sure as shit going to laugh. Chalk that up to mission accomplished for College Humor’s debut; the irony being that this film would be much more at home with a cinema release than the dross currently playing (I’m looking at you, Sex Tape).
Coffee Town follows the travails of Will (Glenn Howerton), who lives modestly within his means after losing one job and finding another as a webmaster. His office is a local coffee joint known as Coffee Town (formerly, injudiciously named Brown Town), where the policy is ‘always be drinking’ and is strictly enforced by his nemesis, mega-douche and Coffee Town employee Sam (an absolutely perfect Josh Groban). ‘You’ve seen us before,’ Will remarks, ‘a sea of glowing green, attached to your coffee shop like barnacles.’ Both men compete for the attention of regular patron Becca (Adrianne Palicki), leading to a slow escalation of their inept attempts to get close to her. Rounding out the scenario is a threat from Corporate Headquarters to turn the successful branch of the franchise into an afterhours bistro – a course of action most likely to send Becca elsewhere, and disrupt the calm of Will’s routine. Aided by office wage slave Chad (Steve Little) and a cop with a callous disregard for the law (a typically hilarious Ben Schwartz), they hatch a plan to fake a robbery of their beloved Coffee Town branch in order to dissuade corporate from selecting the location.
Several smart but slight structural choices by Copeland help prop up the film and create momentum. Title cards announce scenes as ‘8 Days Before the Robbery,’ building up anticipation for the film’s set piece before we are even aware of what it will be (or why), and adding a nice separation to what is otherwise many scenes of characters hanging out, riffing, and embarrassing themselves. Witness Gino and Chad contemplating a simple supermarket ad for concentrated soap:
Chad: What’s with concentrated deteregent … how did they figure out how to get more soap into soap?
Gino: They should figure out a way to put more porn in porn.
Gino: Nah, that’d be less porn, don’t you think?
Chad: Well, sometimes less is more.
Gino: No, not in this case.
Chad: Oh, you know what, that’d be a great name for a midget pornstar – ‘Less is More.’
Gino: His tagline should be ‘one teaspoon equals an entire load.’
The quickly unravelling story is told through Will’s narration, sparingly used, and occasional injections of illustrative animations, hilariously used, to build the otherwise pretty small stakes of the film. As always, the editing (by Ned Bastille) makes this comedy with some great split-second flashbacks, smash-cuts, and other quick transitions to keep the otherwise casual pace of the film clipping along.
But ultimately this is a film which revels in the performances of its characters, all of which you will have seen these actors deliver before, but here with an extra level of commitment. Schwartz’s Gino is the standout, with his casual disregard for his police duties and constant misuse of his authority for sleazy pick-up purposes. You’ll have seen him deliver something similar as Parks and Recreation’s Jean Ralphio, but never with this level of focus or carefree maliciousness. Ditto Steve Little as Chad, who is somewhat stuck playing the character he came to fame with in HBO’s Eastbound and Down; but here a nice fit with the other contrasting characters. Howerton reprises the sensible, put-upon Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia we saw in the initial series of that show, and anchors the narrative well. But Groban is perfect, simultaneously selling the coffee shop dropout who has his own band and foists self-made CDs to all who’ll stand still for long enough (Will amusingly uses them as coasters). The script also makes another smart choice in highlighting how our hero and his nemesis are not so different from each other, with Gino commenting:
You know what he is, he’s a poop chipper… there are two types of guys in this world, right, those who use their own urine to chip away the poop for the greater good and those who do not. And that, my friend, we are looking at right there, is a poop chipper.
Any other tent pole comedy would strain to get the point home, desperate to make the joke land, but Coffee Town delivers that brilliant, perverse insight as just one solid line among many.
In short, Coffee Town is a film worth checking out, and a promising start for alternative production outlets such as College Humor. New media might be the death of big, art house cinema; but they’re a boon for small comedies of all colours and types.
Rating: Three and a half.