Anyone who has ever worked in a dead end job – data mining, stacking shelves, whatever – will get the fierce “we’re all in this together” loyalty on display in 8 Minutes Idle, a refreshingly raunchy and frequently very funny look at life at the bottom of the jobs food chain.
Mark Simon Hewis’s rom-com is an adaptation of Matt Thorne’s novel based on his own time working in a call centre and stars the suddenly-everywhere Tom Hughes as Dan. This seasoned call-centre jockey divides his time between palming off angry customers, flirting with fellow headsetters Teri (Ophelia Lovibond) and Adrienne (Antonia Thomas), pranking colleagues and entertaining mild sexual fantasies about his vampish boss Alice (Montserrat Lombard). That’s when he’s not dealing with the fallout of his parents’ marriage breakdown, which he doesn’t need (and nor, quite frankly, do we). But back to the plot, where we join events just at the point where things in Dan’s life have come to some sort of a head, and he’s being kicked out of his house by his mother. Homeless, he heads to the only building he can get access to and starts sleeping rough in the office, with only his cat for company.
8 Minutes Idle – the toxic-bullet time that gets you fired from a call centre, apparently – then follows increasingly resourceful Dan through an episodic week of personal catastrophe, professional compromise and romantic bumbling. Like a Richard Curtis comedy in touch with life at the rough end of the pineapple, it lets the personable Tom Hughes do his cadet Hugh Grant thing, as a likeable, tentative, attractive guy with a full tank of the “faint heart never won fair lady” shtick that fuels such romantic comedies. The lady is played by pillow-lipped Lovibond, the smart, sexy Teri being unfortunately slated for firing because she’s been caught deliberately keeping an increasingly irate customer on the line for a record time – kudos from the colleagues though. And she’s going to be fired by Dan, who is her team leader because he has been there five minutes longer than she has. Or because Alice fancies him. Or because it’s a sexist organisation. Maybe all three.
But can he/will he do it? And is the film going to handle the situation in traditional boy meets girl/loses girl fashion? A lot of the fun in watching any attempt to squeeze extra juice out of a well wrung format is the way it tests the mettle of pretty much everyone involved. And I’m not going to mess things up with a pass-by-pass account of this film’s shots on goal. What I will say is that 8 Minutes Idle makes its moves against a pungently evoked soulless office environment stuffed with bored young people who just want to go out, get wasted and then get laid. Matt Thorne was clearly taking notes when he did his post-university call-centre stint.
Clearly punching above its budgetary weight, this unshowily directed comedy pulls good performances from nearly all concerned (Paul Kaye, cameoing as Dan’s drunk dad, seemed to be in a different film). We’re obviously meant to be romantically rooting against evil boss Alice and for the be-baggaged Teri, but I also particularly enjoyed the interactions between Adrienne and Dan, characters who don’t “officially” fancy each other but whose every interaction suggests sublimated sexual longing. Much of Dan’s unnecessary backstory – bad dad, angry mum – seems to have been left on the cutting room floor, which is probably a good thing. And a lot of precious atmosphere – the ranting of angry callers, the office oddballs who become the butt of jokes – has made it through to the final cut, which is definitely a good thing.
Written by a 20something for a 20something crowd, 8 Minutes Idle contains scenes that would probably make a Hollywood producer cackle, before they ordered a rewrite. It reminds us again and again of the exuberant fabulous nonsense of youth – the insane drugs, the casual sex, the moony romanticism, the sense of indestructibility – before the commitment to a career gets its hooks in. And of the dead hand of corporate culture and the performance targets, mission statements and company jingles that drive out enthusiasm, initiative and a song in the heart.
In spite of introducing plenty of characters and packing in a fair amount of plot the film struggles to make it to 90 minutes (83, including end credits by my reckoning). But it’s a breezy, funny and raucous 83 minutes that only starts dry-humping its concept right at the end. By which time you will probably be in a forgiving mood and wondering why it’s taken two whole years for the film to get a release.
© Steve Morrissey 2014