It would make sense that a film co-directed by Amber Benson, known best for her role as Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, would be absolutely adorable. As is true with babies and films alike, adorable human beings create adorable offspring. But there’s more to this story — that of the science fiction comedy Drones — more than just the offbeat cuteness of comedy and workplace romance. There’s also aliens and Earth-obliterating stakes, wonderfully quirky performances and plenty of epic Power Point presentations. Executed with simplicity and smarts, Drones is just the sort of refreshing fair that makes all of the blood and guts of Fantastic Fest easy to stomach for those of us who lack intestinal fortitude.
The story centers on Brian (Jonathan M. Woodward), an attentive, dedicated office worker whose days involve plenty of stapling, filing and lunch dates with his good friend and co-worker Clark (Samm Levine). That is, until today. Today Brian has learned that Clark is not just a cubicle-mate, but an alien from another world, sent to Earth to gather data and report back to his home planet when humanity is ready to be invaded and enslaved. This is all secondary, of course, to Brian’s interest in another co-worker named Amy (Angela Bettis). Inspired by the discovery that humanity is doomed, Brian decides to make his move on Amy. And with her affirmative response, our love story begins.
As these things go, the existence-shattering revelations are not over yet. Now set in his relationship with Amy, Brian quickly learns that Clark isn’t the only alien working in his office, nor is he the only one who is looking to bring the human race to its end.
As I mentioned up front, Drones is a film made distinctive by its charm. A charm born of an engaging cast and some very clever dialog. Jonathan M. Woodward’s performance hearkens back to something from the early days of Bill Murray, but far more amiable and less sarcastic. Through his performance, Brian becomes a lovable, if somewhat unfocused and inadvertent hero. Angela Bettis, doe-eyed and as delightful as she plays socially awkward, is his perfect match. The interactions between the two are fast and sharp, with the comedic beats timed to a tee. Credit goes to the writers (Ben Acker and Ben Blacker), naturally, but its the delivery that truly brings the Brian/Amy (or “Blamy” as they are called around the office) pairing to life in a way that makes them interesting and worth watching to the end.
Then of course, there are the usual workplace gags. Something about a copy machine, a water cooler that doesn’t exactly work, a boss (played splendidly by James Urbaniak) whose corporate jargon-infused metaphors about productivity come via amusing Power Point presentations. And there’s that silly guy in the office who is misunderstood by everyone, in this case personified by Dave Allen, or as he’s known around my house: Jeff from Freaks and Geeks. And of course, there is that subplot about the multiple alien races that want to destroy the whole of planet Earth. Which is placed within the story so nonchalantly that it becomes a joke in and of itself.
Where Drones wins most — and it does win quite a bit — is in its simplicity. It is a single location film that presents something fairly high concept (alien races fighting over “dibs” for destroying Earth) alongside something familiar (workplace romance) in a single setting. And with no bug special effects budget or visual trickery, it gives its audience a reason to fear for characters to whom we feel connected. And as I mentioned, its charming as all hell. Directors Benson and Adam Busch keep things simple and light, but ultimately focused on the characters. And they execute it with a dry sense of humor that keeps us laughing while we’re spending quality time with said characters.
It all delivers, in the end, a consistently funny and undeniably endearing experience. Perfectly fit for the nerds, the tortured corporate drones and the hopeless romantics among us.
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