Written and directed by Andrew Cohn, calling it quits after 38 years, an ageing fast-food worker trains his young replacement on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish. Starring: Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie, Ed O’Neill, Birgundi Baker, Allison Tolman and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
Approaching this film, it’s hard to immediately see what it can bring to the table that’s new or different, younger and older generations struggling to find common ground is overtly familiar territory. It’s also dipping its toes into race issues and that’s the extent to which it attempts to deal with either, it steps slightly into the door but never crosses the threshold. It’s the be all and end all of this film’s issues, the writing is just frustratingly weak. It opens up the question of generational perspectives and unawareness of the reality of racial injustice and seemingly never-ending prejudice but feels too afraid to really delve into it.
The story moves at an overly slow pace, there’s actually very little to it when you look at the film as a whole so there’s never anything to compensate for that pace. It has a habit of flinging in comments about how Black people are unjustly treated and judged but never forces Stanley (Jenkins) to really face and accept that truth. In trying to vaguely talk about injustice it ironically provides no justice in the resolution of its story. It gradually builds up to what should be a confrontational, heated and eye-opening exchange but nothing happens, it purely lets itself peter out.
Regardless of the story problems, the main thing that the film has going for it is the performances. Richard Jenkins is a fantastic actor and one who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, not enough people talk about his heart-breaking turn in The Shape of Water. This is a much different role for him, he impressively walks the line between sympathetic and unlikable, Stanley is a difficult guy to get along with but he’s simply so pathetic and underachieving that you can’t help but want better for him. Shane Paul McGhie is an actor with a lot of potential and this role doesn’t really let him show that. Jevon isn’t a completely fleshed out character, he ticks a lot of cliched boxes and feels much too formulaic but McGhie does well with the little he has and still manages to bring an emotional edge to his performance. It also feels a shame that Randolph is utterly underused in this film, she’s such a wonderful actor and could have brought much more to this film if they’d given her the opportunity.
The Last Shift is a slow and very conservative conversation about race that takes a long road to not get very far. Jenkins and McGhie give solid performances worthy of a much deeper and emotional story but they can’t save the film from feeling weak and uncommitted. It takes a frustrating amount of time to get going then fades out without any justice for its characters. Its intentions are honourable but its filmmakers don’t have a strong enough handle on the topic or the confidence to pull it off.