Haiku Tunnel
directed by Jacob & Josh Kornbluth
(Sony, 2001)

In the world of office work there are employees who are "temps," floating from job to job, wherever their agency sends them. And then there are "perms," the people who stay, get benefits and get sucked up into the microcosm of each office's hierarchy, unwritten rules and trade secrets.

Josh Kornbluth is a temp, and thrilled to be one. He always shows up on time and always works hard (except when he's typing his novel into the company's computer system). He enjoys the perks, like free office supplies (he's partial to Uniball micropens, he says, because they never explode, but instead, expire gracefully. "They're the Camille of pens.")

Temping, in short, lets Kornbluth's neuroses run free.

In Haiku Tunnel, the Kornbluth brothers, Josh and Jacob, have turned a comedic lens on the world of the temp worker. Josh Kornbluth plays a character named Josh Kornbluth, something he says is simply coincidence. In fact, he argues at the beginning of the film, everything in Haiku Tunnel is strictly fiction -- something very important to establish in a movie about working in a law firm, he says.

But anyone who's done temp work will recognize the atmosphere in what's basically a long series of sketches about daily life in the Schuyler & Mitchell (a.k.a. S&M) firm and, primarily, about Josh's own sense of where he fits in the grand scheme of things. Completely self-obsessed, brilliant but not driven, Josh is given one assignment when he first arrives: type 17 very important letters for his boss, Bob.

His first day as a male secretary is so successful the head secretary, Marlina, offers him a permanent job. And she preys on Josh's weakness: "We'll cover your psychotherapy," she whispers to him. But becoming a perm may be the end of Josh.

Haiku Tunnel revolves around Josh's not-so-Herculean effort to get Bob's letters transcribed and in the mail. He no longer has time to go into reveries about secretarial names (DaVonne. Aurora.) vs. lawyer names (Bob. Bob. Bob. Jim. Jim. James.) He can't just pop his Judas Priest tape into the dictation machine to see what it says played backwards. Instead, he's attending mandatory orientation sessions (led by a dry Harry Shearer) on how to properly unjam the copier.

Josh is such a bundle of unusually wired synapses, and it's hard to believe there's not more than a little of the real Kornbluth zinging around in there. Wrapped in loud-print shirts, hair askew, a pile of hard candies spilling over his desktop, he examines the "old mongrel" law partners, the "eager puppy associates" and the summer associates ("They're not even puppies yet. They're like pupae straining to poke out from their cocoons.") from his perch as an outsider.

It's a hilarious vantage point for this Sundance Film Festival entry. And the jittery, off-kilter Kornbluth is so right for Josh I didn't mind the ebb and flow of truly funny scenarios.

As a former temp worker, I can vouch for their accuracy. Though they're all fictional. Of course.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 15 March 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.