Logan is settling into a new home and job, trying to find his footing at a corporate ad agency. But at his job, he meets Allie, beginning an office romance that proceeds through a heartwarming arc, until unexpected obstacles threaten their “happily ever after.”
Written and directed by Ben Callner, along with brother Adam Callner as producer, “Adman” is a clever comedy-romance that makes its mark through sheer ingenuity and smarts, breathing new life into a genre that is often riddled with cliches. The most immediately notable aspect of the short is its ingenuous narrative and stylistic conceit. The plot itself is a boy-meets-girl classic romance that hits all the milestones of a relationship: meeting, flirting, marriage, conflict and resolution.
But the story is structured through a series of fake ads that sell non-existent products. The emerging couple feature in almost each spot, and characters and settings repeat, creating cohesion even as the “packaging” and marketing around the story segments changes. The result is a cinematic experience that’s funny, clever and highly entertaining, presenting the traditional arc of a relationship in a fresh, hilarious way.
What’s remarkable is that each “ad” works beautifully on their own, made with remarkably polished craftsmanship and panache, and many are even Super Bowl-worthy, with twists of fantastic humor and surprise. (The Callner brothers are accomplished commercial filmmakers, working on major campaigns that include Volkswagen, Verizon and GEICO.) The setup and punchline of each commercial are engaging, witty and often quite memorable, supported with versatile performances that fluidly adjust to each segment’s demands and unified by a polished visual approach of heightened naturalism.
But each spot also forms a credible narrative block of the overarching, building arc and plays off one another in unique, interesting ways. A sexy, funny beer commercial serves as the first date for instance, but consummating the relationship segues into a decadently indulgent commercial for ice cream that guarantees you’ll never look at a pint of the dessert in quite the same way again.
The love story at the heart is really quite simple, but the film is also a creative, fascinating experiment in the different visual languages that permeate our media-saturated lives. The language of advertisements are re-appropriated for the more typically immersive demands of narrative filmmaking, making for compelling and even provocative questions about how the tropes of commercialized storytelling both heighten, compress and sometimes trivialize the way we tell and live stories about our lives.
The film isn’t an emotionally intimate experience with the couple — and we never quite “know” the couple or experience their sorrows and joys alongside them in a conventionally cinematic way. But commercials are designed to tug at the heartstrings as well, and when Logan and Allie’s story reaches its conclusion through a penultimate tearjerker, it’s hard not to feel sadness — though that feeling is complicated by telling a genuinely emotional story through a hyper-stylized format. Is it the form that’s bringing tears to our eyes, or the story? But does it even matter, when the storytelling is this good?
On its most basic level, “Adman” is a well-crafted, witty piece of filmmaking that takes advantage of the heightened commercial form to amuse and entertain. The Callner brothers set up a website designed to look like a director’s reel, where users can “remix” the story, see how each spot works on its own and experiment with their own juxtapositions. The entire project is offered in a spirit of great fun and terrific wit, while still posing fascinating questions of just how malleable visual storytelling is — and by extension, the viewers that watch it.