Directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, written by Eric Hoffman, Philip Zlotorynski and lead actor Bob Odenkirk, in a city where greeting card writers are celebrated like movie stars, Romance writer Ray used to be the king. In trying to recapture the feelings that once made him the greatest, he gets entangled in a web of murder and deceit as writers vie to create the perfect card for a new holiday: Girlfriend’s Day. Also starring: Amber Tamblyn, Stacy Keach, Alex Karpovsky, Kevin O’Grady, Rich Sommer, Larry Fessenden, Natasha Lyonne, Andy Richter, June Diane Raphael, Stephanie Courtney and Echo Kellum.
Despite Odenkirk’s strong following due to the success of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, his fans don’t seem to have picked up on this particular role, having been released on Netflix in 2017 and made very little noise. Ray (Odenkirk) is your classic man in a rut, he’s lost his wife and consequently his creativity and has been in a downward spiral ever since until finally losing his job and hitting rock bottom. Though the film is intended to be set in a world where those who work in greeting cards are treated like rock stars, it feels like they missed a step slightly, as other than the occasional person knowing who they are and a card-themed bar, it doesn’t come across, instead it simply feels like a tight-knit community. It perhaps doesn’t help to have nothing to compare it to, because how many people actually know a greeting card writer and what their daily work life looks like? Therefore, a lot of the film’s plot is hinged upon whether you find the set-up convincing, else the murderous plot to find the perfect card, just comes across as a family conflict.
Odenkirk is exactly as you’d expect, flawed but lovable and it’s easy to root for him to pull himself out of his rut, with the help of the unusual but enticing Jill (Tamblyn), the pair have a surprisingly great chemistry and it actually would have been ideal to have more of them together. Aside from its two leads, the film is near-perfectly cast, June Diane Raphael is fantastic with her typical sharp-tongued wit as Ray’s ex-wife, oddly romantically paired with Andy Richter and yet inexplicably it works. Stacy Keach slides right into the villain role effortlessly and it’s great to see more from Arrow’s Echo Kellum. The one issue is that when you cast the wonderful and hilarious Natasha Lyonne, you don’t waste her talent on one 60-second appearance, she could have added so much more but they didn’t give her the chance, especially considering they put her on the poster.
One of the issues that the film has, is that it’s not quite sure what it wants to be, from the directorial style you can feel that Stephenson is trying to elicit a noir theme, while it’s predominantly a comedy but with drama and romance entwined, resulting in something limp from being pulled in too many directions. A larger problem is that for a comedy, it’s timing and writing isn’t hitting the right notes, there is humour in there but it doesn’t come through strongly enough to work in the majority of instances throughout. Possibly the joke that lands strongest is one involving a miscommunication with the phrase back door, which calls for more of an eye roll than a laugh. The writing comes across as a little too soft and sentimental, though that does reflect its greeting card origins, it makes the murder and violent elements feel out of place and restricts a stronger comedy vein from coming through.
Girlfriend’s Day is entertaining but its confused sense of direction and themes prevents it from achieving what it set out to do. The underlying plot works, it isn’t inherently original other than adding the greeting card angle but the way that it’s written unfortunately cuts itself off at the knees and gives you something that’s watchable but far from memorable. It’s a brilliant cast that they’ve put together but the script doesn’t highlight their comedy skills and it’s criminal to cast Natasha Lyonne and only give her seconds of screen-time.