A pizza delivery man with a poor sense of direction toils at his dysfunctional workplace, dealing with offbeat co-workers and a temperamental boss.
In the middle of it, he makes a delivery to a wrong address — and what he finds there compels him to stay, even if it costs him his job.
Writer-director Justin Robinson has crafted a uniquely touching blend of deadpan comedy with openhearted drama, full of memorable characters struggling with the undertow of sadness, grief and inadequacy, in a world that often doesn’t look hospitably on authentic emotional experience and expression.
The film takes time to create and develop its eccentric rhythms, building its careworn yet colorful world through details as careful as the working-class costumes, affectionately overstuffed sets and even the bumper stickers on cars.
The cinematography has a warmth and a brightness to it, and the framing and shots — which may initially remind viewers of American indie classes like “Bottle Rocket” or “Napoleon Dynamite” — emphasize the offbeat world these characters. The wonderfully unique dialogue and performances add to this atmosphere of Americana-gone-wild, capturing both the quirkiness of the characters and their unique ways of expressing themselves.
But though their world may seem initially playful and even whimsical, it becomes clear as we get to know them that they are struggling in many ways. They are struggling to connect, to be heard and seen, and even to find a reason to stay alive. Despair and emotional pain isn’t that far from the surface, and deft performances straddle the line between the mix of deadpan humor and genuine pathos that characterizes the film.
“Popeye the Pizza Man” is ultimately about the importance of reaching out to one another, despite dealing with our own issues and struggles. Its ultimate handling of suicide as its subject matter may seem roundabout, but as the result of its careful buildup, it is also done with authentic emotion and heartfelt respect. Short films about suicide can often struggle with the weightiness of the subject with the compressed time frame, but this film earns its audience’s intimacy with its characters and their emotional journeys. The result is a warmly compassionate postcard from small-town America about what it means to be “there” for someone, woven together with great skill, humor, and sincerity.