SXSW Movie Review: The Promotion

Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly play two grocery store managers battling for the big job in this quirky, intelligent film. [Grade: A]
By  · Published on March 10th, 2008

It appears to me that 2008 is quickly becoming a great year for comedy, at least, unclassifiable comedy. So far I have seen some fantastic comedic endeavors, from Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness to Clark Gregg’s Choke to Charlie Bartlett, and I am generally at a loss when it comes to giving an acceptable, easy to follow description for any of them. Wackness and Charlie Bartlett were films that had a great deal of heart and realism, but people still want to throw them in with every other “drug” comedy, just because of their subject matter. Choke is a highly observant take on growing up, but it will always be seen as a film about sex addiction. In reality, we have seen a handful of amazing comedies that are almost impossible to describe and even harder to sell to the American mainstream.

With The Promotion, writer turned director Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) has made another film that can be added to the aforementioned list. It is the quirky and odd story of two grocery store assistant managers (Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly) who get locked in a battle for the new head manager spot at a new location. Scott is the sometimes apathetic, pessimistic guy, only trying to be the “bread winner” for his young wife (played by The Office‘s Jenna Fischer) while Reilly is the happy-go-lucky recovering drug addict from Canada, just trying to make a new life in the states with his wife (Lili Taylor) and their young daughter.

It sounds like the setup from something like the abysmal Dane Cook slapper Employee of the Month, but trust me, this is the movie that Employee of the Month wishes it could be. It is a thousand times more intelligent and it features a very rich and dynamic performance from Seann William Scott, who has previously been relegated to roles that are just extensions of Steven Stiffler. Combined with Reilly’s expressive and cool nature, Scott is the perfect centerpiece in this wacky (but not over the top) comedy.

Promotion works best when it is being subtle about the laughs, including a bit with John C. Reilly’s Canadian fellow explaining why he didn’t understand the term “cutting the cheese” and its relation to flatulence. In Canada, he explains, it is called “cracking the cheese.” He then goes on to have a facial expression battle with Gil Bellows, who plays a grocery chain board member. It is humor like this that is infused into a very relatable and grounded story, delivered by an exceptional writer who take to being behind the camera with great passion. As an audience member, you can tell that Steve Conrad has very effectively taken the vision in his script and transferred it onto the screen.

The only shortfall of the movie is its odd nature and its offbeat brand of humor. For so many, this type of comedy (that ranges from the completely ridiculous Napoleon Dynamite to the dark and cynical Wackness) that takes too much processing to enjoy. Some people don’t enjoy intelligent, well thought out observational humor — they want broad laughs. For others, like me, we are more than happy to welcome a movie like The Promotion into the world, because in its oddity is where we can always find its beauty.

The Promotion was written and directed by Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness). It stars Seann William Scott, John C. Reilly, Gil Bellows, Fred Armisen, Jenna Fischer and Lili Taylor. It is currently being distributed by Dimension Films and has no official release date. It premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 9, 2008.

Related Topics:

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)