2½ stars (out of four)
Actress Annabelle Gurwitch was strolling near Lincoln Center when she got her agent's call."Woody Allen loves you," she heard, accompanied by imaginary strains of George Gershwin humming through her head. Allen was casting her in "Writer's Block," his 2003 off-Broadway play.
Cut to a tete-a-tete with Allen in the empty theater, re-enacted by Gurwitch and an Allen impersonator in the movie "Fired!" "I'm depressed and nauseous, it's all bad," he says in a string of insults. "You look retarded. Someone should throw a blanket over you." In other words, "You're fired."
Wounded but unbeaten, Gurwitch fought back on Allen's own turf: humor. She turned her dismissal into a mini-industry of entertainments on the downs and downs of getting canned, including a book, an evening of theatrical monologues and this comic documentary, featuring actors and non-actors alike waxing and whining on their bouts of involuntary unemployment.Slapdash and cinematically almost junky, inelegantly mixing TV-like interviews, amateurish film footage, a puppet film-within-a-film and the re-enactment of Woody's tirade, "Fired!" is also a bit schizophrenic thematically, morphing from stand-up and self-effacing shtick to a semi-serious, Michael Moore-esque diatribe.
But, directed by Chris Bradley and Lyle LaBrache, "Fired!" is also a pleasant, leisurely 71 minutes, frequently beguiling thanks to Gurwitch's soft-sell version of the urbane, Second City-esque female noodge. In place of an edge, she brightens "Fired!" with her wholesome, gently self-effacing persona.
And the odd assortment of folks who wind up on her "how-I-got-fired" list are quite a grab bag. They include fellow funny people Anne Meara, Jeff Garlin, Andy Dick, Andy Borowitz, Sarah Silverman and (among the more droll) Fred Willard.
But as "Fired!" segues into its polemical terrain, the roster widens to make room for Walter Scheib, the White House chef fired by Laura Bush; Anita Epolito, fired for refusing to be tested for nicotine; Robert Reich, former U.S. labor secretary; Ben Stein, economist and former speechwriter for Richard Nixon; and, possibly the most ill-treated of the lot, a woman named Sossee Gomer, who says she was fired for failing to dial the police while held at gunpoint during an office robbery.
Meara quips that she and husband Jerry Stiller "were fired from the whole state of Ohio." And there are serious observations, like the one from the usually conservative Stein, who blasts corporate lay-offs robbing workers of pensions and health care by means of bankruptcy proceedings. And this from fellow comic Judy Gold, urging Gurwitch to make the most of her suffering: "Later, it can be funny. Comedy equals tragedy plus time."
Some segments intermix the risible and the real. Reich avows (or lamely jokes) that he only granted Gurwitch an interview to help get his son into show business.
But, often, "Fired!" gets some smiles about an increasingly omnipresent source of stress. At the very least, it's gainful, worthwhile employment for its likable star.
A documentary directed, photographed and edited by Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBrache; written and produced by Annabelle Gurwitch. A Shout Factory/International Film Circuit release; opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Running time: 1:11. No MPAA rating (some adult language and subjects).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun