Late one night, after a particularly stressful day, I decided to unwind with a movie on Netflix. Having just finished catching up on The Mindy Project, I decided to see if the site had any of Chris Messina’s films available for streaming.
Lo and behold, I stumbled upon The Giant Mechanical Man, which was filmed in none other than TMP’s very own home-city of Detroit! Detroit gets a bad rep from the national media and is a city that is criminally under-utilized in films,* so on top of Messina’s involvement, the film’s setting sealed the deal for me. Plenty of movies are filmed here, but they’re usually big-budget action flicks that transform Detroit into a far-away or fictional, apocalyptic metropolis.
Billed as a romantic comedy/drama, The Giant Mechanical Man tosses a bit of quirk into the mix by making one of its central characters a street performer named Tim (Messina) who dresses himself up in silver paint and walks on stilts. His love interest is Janice (Jenna Fischer), a somewhat shy gal who meets him when they both wind up working at the Fillmore Park Zoo (a fictional zoo, which is played at least in part by the Detroit Zoo).
Let me first get my city-based nit-picking out of the way. There are a few inaccuracies in the film’s portrayal of Detroit.
Janice constantly refers to the rail system as “the train.” As a native Michigander and near life-long Detroiter, let me tell you, no one calls that thing “the train.” That’s the People Mover, and only a very small fraction of people use it as a daily source of public transportation, since all it does is make a big ol’ circle around the downtown section of the city. It wouldn’t get Janice anywhere close to her job at the DIA, which is in the cultural center/Midtown area.
The Royal Oak Music Theater is shown hosting a silent film night, but I’ve never seen that venue host a movie. It’s a concert venue. (They should have used the Redford!)
Despite its inaccuracies, I appreciate the film’s portrayal of the city. Considering the fact that most people see Detroit simply as the movie 8 Mile on loop, or as the country’s “murder capital” (which is actually Chicago, according to the 2012 count), I was refreshed by seeing it portrayed as a relatively normal city where people lead relatively normal lives.
As for the film’s story, it’s a good watch. It has a fair bit of charm but doesn’t take its quirk factor too far.
The performances are pretty great. The characters are very believable, and the actors do a good job with them. Messina in particular impresses, as I expected him to. We all know how much I love eye-acting (following the advice Capra once gave to Stanwyck!) and he tackles that skill like a pro. He makes a very good leading man, and his character is quite sweet, which makes the film easy to love.
The pace is somewhat slow, but since this is a romance rooted in realism, it works. I really enjoyed The Giant Mechanical Man. It’s an endearing independent rom-com, and I would definitely recommend it. The score: 4/5 + bonus points for a couple of cool dream sequences and silent film clips = 4.2/5