Jenna Fischer trudges joylessly through the independent quirk-fest The Giant Mechanical Man with all the pep of a condemned man being led to the gallows. It’s easy to see why Fischer is so determinedly morose: Her bubbly sister (Malin Akerman) knows so little about her that Akerman aggressively tries to set up her wallflower sister with a Fabio-haired self-help guru (a painfully miscast Topher Grace) so smarmy, smug, and self-absorbed that his ideal partner would be a mirror attached to a tape recorder capable of capturing his deep thoughts for posterity. Fischer is so professionally unmotivated that she can barely hold onto a job selling grape drink in gorilla-shaped containers at the zoo. A silent-movie lover prone to weird dreams about her teeth falling out, Fischer is fatally out of step with the crazy, callous modern world, but she might just be perfect for a similarly angst-ridden oddball (Chris Messina) who begins working at the zoo with Fischer after his ambitious girlfriend moves out and he’s apparently unable to pay the rent on his massive loft solely with the money he makes pretending to be a silver-skinned robot-man for rubberneckers’ spare change.
Fischer, who also produced (she’s married to writer-director Lee Kirk), stars as a depressed thirtysomething woman drifting glumly through life until she sees Messina on local television in his robot makeup, talking about how his work is a potent metaphor for the alienation and dehumanization endemic to contemporary society. When Messina and Fischer end up working together, they form a friendship rooted in outsiderdom, underemployment, sharing the same kooky dream, and mutual melancholy tendencies.
The Giant Mechanical Man establishes Messina as the kind of self-important jerk who antagonizes cartoon yuppies at a party for bragging about their expensive televisions when they really should be reading books. He can barely conceal his rage when a TV reporter asks him to prostitute his incredible gifts by doing the wave. Neither Messina nor the film can sustain that level of twee, precious obnoxiousness for long, however, and the character shifts from unbearably pretentious to blandly affable midway through, emerging as Fischer’s soulmate largely by default: Messina may not be much, but at least he isn’t a pompous windbag like Grace. Fischer’s character isn’t much better developed: She’s essentially a sadder, greyer, more maudlin variation of her breakout role as Pam on The Office. Fischer at least has personal and romantic reasons to be involved with this film, but audiences are unencumbered by such obligations, and should heed the title’s warning sign and opt out of Kirk, Fischer, and Messina’s fruitless little circle of pain.