Olly Jeffries is an on-again, off-again actor whose career has stagnated over the years. He ends up taking a gig as a bathroom attendant, where one night he is forced to face a reality he’s not yet ready to embrace.
Director Marshall Tyler has crafted an impeccably executed, beautifully textured psychological portrait of a man at a turning point in his life, confronted with events and desires out of his control.
Olly exists in a world that seems removed from most of reality, drifting through the alienating nightscapes of Los Angeles and then working in the odd, almost claustrophobic confines of a men’s bathroom.
The film is anchored by a restrained and excellent performance by Tunde Adebimpe, best known as the lead singer of Brooklyn-based band TV on the Radio and has acted in the film “Rachel Getting Married.” He essays the role of a man who is at stasis in his life, almost like an object in a tableau. In his position as an attendant, people often use him as a sounding board and mirror, talking at him but never really listening to him.
The camera movements and shot that capture him are subtle and sophisticated, veering between raw movement and cerebral slower motion, depending on where the character is at psychologically. The sound design also takes care to help establish Olly in a disconnected world, as snippets of music, dialogue and ambient sound swirl around him, untethered from their sources. The result is a portrait of a man whose world happens to him, while he stays aloof from it, fixed and unfocused.
But when his soon-to-be ex barges into his workplace — and he is confronted with degrading behaviors from some of the people he has to tend to — he’s forced to come forward in the drama of his own life, puncturing his passivity, even if it’s through anger, pain and suffering.
This film favorite at Sundance — which was also executive produced by Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis — is an acute examination of how easy it is to drift through life as it happens, and how hard it is to let go of a dream and fantasy. Beautifully observed and filled with wry flashes of observational humor, “Night Shift” offers a lyrical look at how suffering and adversity can be used to create meaning, and how they can help push us out of our shells and into life.