Nate von Zumwalt
Something about the notion of Labor Day has always seemed archaic to me. Then again, the guy who questions a day off is no better than the seventh grader who reminds the teacher that homework hasn’t been collected—exactly 10 seconds before the bell rings. Thank you, young comrade. In reality, millions of hardworking Americans, whether toiling away at jobs they resent, tolerate, or unabashedly love, deserve a day of rest. And if you’re feeling especially bad about your current line of work, surely these wretched occupations from the films below will bring some levity to the situation. Because, if nothing else, misery loves company. Happy Labor Day.
“Director Chris Smith’s deftness in depicting man’s idiosyncrasies and other inscrutable character blemishes arrived with 1996’s American Job, the narrative precursor to his better-recognized documentary accomplishments American Movie and The Yes Men. In American Job, we are subjected to the tedium of some of America’s most unappealing jobs through the lens of our aimless protagonist Randy Scott, whose helpless disposition is a wry bit of a humor in and of itself. Smith’s shrewd verite filmmaking further advances the film’s comically humdrum atmosphere, leaving us to intermittently pinch ourselves, just to be sure Randy’s reality is not in fact our own.” —Nate von Zumwalt
Never Goin’ Back
“The two main characters in Augustine Frizzell’s very funny debut feature are best friends and high school dropouts who spend their days daydreaming about quitting their jobs at a dreary, depressing diner in their southeast Texas hometown—and they get their wish when their boss fires them for accidentally showing up to work hella stoned.” —Virginia Yapp
Roger and Me
“Before he became the most recognizable and polarizing figure in documentary film—and before Detroit became the national punch line for America’s economic woes—Michael Moore was just a man meddling in the country’s innumerable issues, hoping to expose some truth. Okay, so nothing has really changed after all. But in Roger and Me, Moore’s first filmmaking effort, we are privy to the simplicity of the man and his camera. In this particular endeavor, Moore’s obligation is to the thousands of Americans out of their jobs thanks to General Motors. A Flint, Michigan, native, Moore returns home with a steadfast—and quite humorous—mission to sit down with the man behind the madness, and the head of GM, Roger Smith.” —NVZ
“There is ‘dirty work,’ and then there is the repugnant, nausea-inducing work that the three singular subjects in Dirty Work manage to pursue as both their profession and passion. At times more probing than perhaps desired, this surprisingly accessible documentary explores the (mostly) unenviable worlds of Darrell, a septic tank pumper, Russ, a bull semen collector, and Bernard, an embalmer. Beneath its unpleasant surface lies not only the reality that ‘someone’s gotta do it,’ but that someone may actually be happy to do it.” —NVZ
“It would be criminally remiss to omit the most seminal indie film to explore the torment of menial work. Kevin Smith’s 1994 Festival film Clerks transcends the cult classic label, achieving something closer to the sacred embodiment of independent filmmaking.” —NVZ
“Kyle Alvarez’s 2013 Sundance Film Festival selection stars a self-effacing Jonathan Groff as a young man who takes up the obscure, and perhaps marginally idyllic, vocation of an apple picker. Based on a David Sedaris short story, Alvarez’s smartly adapted narrative is suffused with undertones of sexual discovery and religious confusion, set to the bucolic milieu of an apple orchard. At the end of its runtime, the idea of fleeing to farm life doesn’t sound bad at all…” —NVZ
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2011; it has since been updated.