At the Raindance film festival, London, UK, 27 October–6 November 2021
You’re either a fan of the wacky, the quirky and the whimsical or you’re not. All Sorts is all three and yet manages to avoid the trap of believing that zaniness trumps everything else, and that it’s a licence to ignore the other considerations of film-making – like crafting a decent a plot. Not everyone is Wes Anderson. In fact, sometimes even Wes Anderson isn’t Wes Anderson.
The director and writer here is J Rick Castaneda, of the production outfit Psychic Bunny – their 2009 bite-size web series Coma, Period. (still on YouTube) gave Rob Delaney an early starring role, after which Psychic Bunny hooked up with Lego to make Ninjago: Decoded, one of those deeply knowing animation series designed to shift product with a wink.
All Sorts is an office comedy, faintly reminiscent of Mike Judge’s Office Space, or the overlooked British call-centre comedy Eight Minutes Idle, but walking a path all of its own. It’s made for nothing and has a large cast who, I’m guessing, might all be friends and relatives of the Psychic Bunny crew. But the main focus is dweeby Diego (Eli Vargas), a newbie finding life a struggle at Data-Mart (“We got data”), and gawky June (Greena Park), an old hand who, it turns out, is a dervish at filing.
Filing. All Sorts waxes nostalgic about office practices that no longer exist, and it can do that because it’s set in the 1990s – all chunky monitors, blocky websites, Nokia phones and filing cabinets, which were then having their last moment under the fluorescents.
Enter the whimsy: it turns out that there’s a secret portal in this office, out by the Coke machine, where, if you give the right signal, you will be admitted to a late-hours filing competition that’s run just like a WWE bout. A stoked crowd, an announcer in evening dress, competitors with fight names like Steve the Butcher.
June, once Diego has worked out how to access the invite-only event, finds her unusual talent has a niche. She’s a star, and in one nicely caught bout after another she ascends the rankings, streamlining her filing technique as she goes.
It does all sound so cute it should come with a bucket, but there are a handful of things in All Sorts’ favour. It’s got a good story, for one, with a hint of mystery about the true nature of the filing competition. It also sets up a possible love story between Diego and June, who already has a boyfriend, one who calls Diego “Dago” when they first meet – there follows a lovely scene of male rivals’ smiles veiling snarls. And it throws enough little puzzles into the mix, and weird characters, like office boss Vasquez (Luis Deveze), one of those self-obsessed weirdos everyone who’s ever worked in an office has come across.
The jokes are not so much funny haa-haa as funny peculiar, and it catches really well that feeling of those first-job jobs, before the career hooks in, when strangers are thrown together doing stupid things and a strange sort of survivors’ camaraderie develops.
It’s set at a pivotal moment, right at the very end of around 100 years of a certain type of office culture – turn up, do your thing, go home – and right at the beginning of another type, where you’re never ever not at work. And All Sorts is fuzzily warm in all the right ways about an experience which it’s savvy enough to admit was also crushingly menial.
There might be a bit of Canadian fringe-dwelling auteur Guy Maddin in its delving into odd amours and non sequitur scenarios, and then again there might not. But it’s funny enough, ridiculous enough, odd enough and warm enough to bounce over the occasional wobbly performance and hit the spot, because every single thing about it is knowingly faux.
© Steve Morrissey 2021