There’s a lot to admire about Phil Dunn’s Box Office Smash.
One is the inventiveness of its production and its attention to detail. Its cardboard reality automatically inspires the inner kid in me to grab a couple of unwanted boxes and let my imagination run wild. Second is Thomas Bell’s moving score, conveying both the poignant mundane and a euphoric freedom. Lastly, it’s the heavy use of desaturated and neutral colours, conveying the dull, generic and robotic routine of a supposed normality thanks to Mario Genovese’s cinematography. If there is a flicker of brightness, it’s outside that binary boxed lifestyle.
It all enthusiastically sells the premise of Dunn’s unique vision – the story of an office man (James Killeen) who works in a box, seemingly content with his successes and contribution.
There is no irony lost on its title, reflecting a double meaning in Killeen’s portrayal and its cinematic soundbite. Thanks to Dunn, both identities live up to their desired expectations.
It’s easy to be cynical in a world where life circumstances can be a struggle. Lost in our own ‘boxed reality’, working a nine to five job becomes a hectic exercise for the mind and body. Therefore, by that notion alone, Box Office Smash is identifiably personal and relatable. Dunn paints a truthful and masterful picture in documenting how accurately distorted that reality can be.
You know nothing about Office Man other than a photograph on his desk. Could that be a picture of his father with him as a young boy or Office Man with his son? If that’s his father, maybe he followed down the same, workaholic path? Whatever relationship that Dunn wants us to infer is almost inconsequential. It’s the acknowledgement of the imbalance dichotomy between a mental sacrifice and emotional happiness.
Dunn doesn’t stop there with the thoughtful analogy. There’s a notable absence of speech or narration in its universal tale, allowing the visuals to make profound statements. ‘Aim for perfection. Settle for excellence’ – there is an untold, mental health pressure that is laced with those words, as symbolised by Killeen squeezing the ‘happy face’ stress ball. At first, it’s a confident reassurance. But when his outdated and antique computer goes wrong, the office space suddenly becomes a fearful pressure cooker in a significant crossroads moment.
But the truth is, Dunn expertly challenges the idea of ‘perfection’, deconstructing it to an almost mythological degree. What happens to Office Man is not his fault, but the pressure to live up to those high standards is the subtle key to understanding the art behind Box Office Smash. Perfection in Office Man’s world is the satisfaction in perusing company ambitions rather than his own. The sacrifice is the uniformed conformity and muted personalities.
The beauty about Box Office Smash is that celebration of imperfection, daring us to be bold and different. Killeen’s performance allows the character to transcendently fail and wake up from his monotonous slumber to find the courage and bravery to recapture his soul. That impressive articulation in breaking out of a normalised routine and finding a purposeful balance and identity speaks volumes. Translating that emotional feeling is a difficult task, but Dunn’s experience and measured approach can’t be faulted in its exceptional satisfaction to be both entertaining and compelling.
Box Office Smash is so powerful in its conviction and execution it will leave a beaming smile on your face.