After starting with a really promising first person narration that anyone ever involved in the service industry could immediately relate to, the Canadian comedy Servitude quickly falls into a very standard groove. Bland, sitcomish, and only somewhat a step above its closest American antecedent Waiting, the film aims low but manages a few moments of comedic glory that hit harder than they should given the film’s weak story concept.
Josh (Joe Dinicol) has been waiting tables for the past three years at the generic family feedbag Ranch Steakhouse as part of an agreement with his father that if he worked for three years his law school would be paid for. What Josh really wants to do, however, is write, as evidenced by a blog he keeps about working in the soul crushing food service industry alongside a group of motley misfits including a lecherous ladies man with a thing for older women (John Bregar), an effeminate gay actor who can’t catch a break (Jeigh Madjus), a crazed working mother who has it in for everyone around her (Linda Kash), and their sad, but kindly boss (Dave Foley). Despite wanting to quit in an effort to keep his upwardly mobile girlfriend (Kristen Hager), Josh is dragged into one final full night of work and rebellion when a delegate from the German home office (Enrico Colantoni) comes in and threatens their jobs on an already busy and short staffed shift.
At times writer Michael Sparaga’s film comes off as being far more cynical than it needs to be, and the film’s raunchier moments tend to come across as forced and obvious. Director Warren P. Sonoda doesn’t do the material many favours by shooting everything as if it were a sitcom and dragging the film along at any almost disarmingly slow pace. But together, the duo do manage to hit some of the film’s best gags head on with a look at the kind of nightmare customers that former waiters and management types will know all too well. They don’t get too many assists from the leading cast, but the supporting cast gets in the film’s best moments.
Dinicol isn’t much of a leading man, but he’s a competent enough talent to shove out in front to play the humdrum everyman with big dreams. The rest of the waitstaff and peripheral characters mostly conform to their one word scripted stereotypes (bitchy, high-strung, douchy, gay, etc.), except for Bregar who shows some real edge and comedic chops that the mostly fresh faced cast seem to be lacking.
The film’s greatest moments come from a trio of acting veterans who give these young whippersnappers the old what for. Colantoni gets to show surprising range as a comedian that’s miles away from his usually static and serious TV characters as an over the top caricature with a hideous comb over. Margot Kidder gets to have a little bit of fun as a foil for Bregar’s character: an overly made up older woman with some unique physical attributes and a mouth like a sailor. But it’s Foley who wisely has the most comedic lifting to do here, turning in some of his best work since his years on NewsRadio. He’s not a tyrannical boss, but rather someone stuck in the same rut as his employees. He carries a sad sort of sympathy with him that elevates the material to a higher level of believability. These three give Servitude the shot in the arm it so desperately deserves.
With the first feature film to come out of the CFC comedy lab (with Miss Congeniality director Donald Petrie and Tropic Thunder scribe Etan Cohen listed as project mentors in the credits), Sonoda and Sparaga accomplish a very basic set of goals thanks to not aiming very high. It most certainly feels like a first feature and something that was workshopped quite comprehensively. With some tighter direction and a script filled with more fleshed out characters, this could’ve become a Canadian trash cinema classic. Instead, it’s just an okay take on some familiar tropes with scattered laughs.