If you squint hard enough at Girlfriend’s Day you might be able to convince yourself it’s just an extra-long episode of Better Call Sal. Hey, there’s Bob Odenkirk walking around in cheap suits, looking so sad and defeated, just barely clinging to the bottom rung of the economic ladder, yet you somehow suspect he might have a third act left in his thus far failed life. Classic Jimmy McGill, right?
Alas, no. Girlfriend’s Day is not some Better Call Sal fever dream. It’s a new Netflix original movie which dropped yesterday as a kind of comedy nerd alternate viewing option for Valentine’s Day. The basic idea of the film is to take a Chinatown-esque film noir story, set it against the backdrop of the greeting card industry and play it completely straight, hoping to inspire the occasional wry laugh or half smile with its mundane absurdity. The script has been kicking around for over a decade now, as Odenkirk explained in a Daily Beast interview, “Eric Hoffman [Mr. Show] wrote the original draft with his friend Philip Zlotorynski, and then over the course of many years—between ten and thirteen years—we’ve been rewriting this whenever we’ve had time, because it always makes us smile.” Thanks to Odenkirk’s working relationship with Netflix through the quasi-Mr. Show revival W/Bob & David he was able to get the Girlfriend’s Day script to Ted Sarandos, and, yada, yada, yada, here we are.
It’s worth pausing to point out that Netflix doesn’t care if we watch any of its movies or TV shows. They care that we intend to watch, that we put ever more movies and shows in our queue and would never dream of canceling our subscription because just look at all those things we’ve yet to get around to watching. As such, it’s more important to Netflix that they have a quirky new movie from Bob Odenkirk because of what the signals to fans of his unique comedy brand (i.e., subscribe/stick with us because of all the cool things we’re doing) than it is for that quirky new Bob Odenkirk movie to be any good.
And Girlfriend’s Day isn’t very good. It’s a decent idea for a short movie (a romance greeting card writer with writer’s block and a broken heart gets sucked into film noir shenanigans when the state of California announces a greeting card contest for its new holiday called “Girlfriend’s Day”) endlessly stuck in search of a feature length story. Not surprisingly then, Girlfriend’s Day doesn’t so much build to a natural conclusion as it just abruptly ends, fading to black before throwing to a brief montage with some explanatory voice-over from Odenkirk. The movie is only 71 minutes long, yet it feels like it was a challenge for them to fill up that much time, both for story and budgetary reasons.
However, Odenkirk wouldn’t have labored over this for over a decade if it didn’t have some value, some aspects which made him laugh. There are some funny ideas, such as a bar where greeting card writers hang out, read their latest compositions like slam poets at an open mic and get picked up by greeting card groupies, and inspired sequences, such as a mansion’s butler showing Odenkirk through a seemingly endless parade of rooms before finally arriving at the office of the mansion’s well-connected owner. Plus, the supporting cast is full of notable indie comedy personalities, many of whom are only in a scene or two, with Echo Kellum (among all of them) making the best use of his short screen time.
Mostly, though, Girlfriend’s Day is Bob Odenkirk comedic ode to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. As he gushed to The Daily Beast, “How about that scene [in Girlfriend’s Day] with me and Stacy Keach, where he’s eating dinner? You know the scene in Chinatown, when [John] Huston’s eating the fish, and he says, ‘I hope you don’t mind—I like ‘em with the head on.’ In our case, Stacy Keach says, ‘I hope you don’t mind if I eat liver and beets. Exquisite!’ And in Chinatown, Huston says, ‘Just find the girl,’ whereas in ours, Keach says, ‘Just write the card.’ So yeah, Chinatown is the main touchstone of this silly, silly movie. I love that film so much. I bet I’ve watched it more than any other movie. By a lot.”
But unlike Chinatown’s long lasting cultural legacy no one’s going to be saying, “Forget it, Bob. It’s Girlfriend’s Day” for years to come. Mostly they’ll be saying, “Girlfriend’s Day? What’s that?”