How the Tin Man Finds a Heart (Film Review: “The Giant Mechanical Man”)

Valentine’s Day is a tricky business, unless you’re 6 years old and get cards and candy from every person you’ve ever met. I feel it’s always a crap shoot, and have learned the hard way that it’s not the kind of holiday where you greet the gas station attendant with a chirpy “Happy Valentine’s Day”! Still, the heart wants what the heart wants and today marks the spot on Norma’s calendar for a gentle, whimsical romantic comedy. The Giant Mechanical Man is a low-key, character-rich picture written and directed by Lee Kirk on a shoe-string budget, with an appealing ensemble cast who might be dangerously over-associated with the TV shows from which they hail. In fact, that’s one of the reasons it’s taken Norma’s Streaming Picks so long to get around to watching this sweet little gem of an indie film.

SnapShot Plot

The movie opens on a guy named Tim (Chris Messina) as he begins the preparations that transform himself into the Giant Mechanical Man, one of those street performance artists who blend mime, human statues, and circus skills….you know who I’m talking about, those people whose artistry sometimes stops you dead in your tracks and the others for whom you toss some coins into a hat simply to alleviate your own guilt about having a real job. It’s not clear which one Tim is; he’s good but he doesn’t look fulfilled in the action of his art, rather than grimly determined to keep pursuing it. We then meet Janice, a somewhat nondescript girl-next-door type who’s struggling to find her way but too modest and humble to cause much of a fuss. Jenna Fischer is PERFECTLY cast here. With one self-deprecating grimace, she’s stolen our hearts and our attention. When she’s fired from her temp agency for not having a more shiny personality, she ends up moving in with her successfully married and comparatively glamorous sister, Jill (in a convincingly condescending turn by the gorgeous Malin Ã…kerman.) Jill and her husband just can’t seem to resist the urge to ‘fix’ Janice, so they set her up with an unctuously self-congratulatory self-help guru poseur named Doug Duncan, played against type by Topher Grace in what can only be described as the best wig-flipping performance all year. Of course, Janice keeps noticing Tim – or rather, the giant mechanical man – around the streets and train stations of the city, and when they both wind up in menial jobs at the zoo, she doesn’t recognize him out of his silver makeup and 7-foot legs. But what they both share in common, the wish to belong, to not feel invisible in the world around them, is what draws them to each other.


“Sometimes I have dreams that my teeth are falling out.” “Are you serious? I have that dream, I just had that dream!”

Parting Shot

Remember I described Janice as fairly nondescript? That is, until she finds her voice and then her heart in Tim, after which her smile becomes dazzling in its genuine sincerity, a really lovely transformation of a character. The other element I appreciated was the absence of any real villains in the film. Even Tim’s girlfriend, Pauline (played by the uber-talented Brit, Lucy Punch) means him no ill will when she moves out; she just doesn’t share his dream. And Doug, too, when he’s not over-presenting himself as the “Author of Winning Conversations” has a few subtle moments where his own insecurities and over compensations slip out. The Giant Mechanical Man is more than just the film project in which Jenna Fischer met and married her director, Lee Kirk. Or one of the first films to be released simultaneously in art house theatres as well as OnDemand.

It’s a simple film with a simple message about finding that one person who really sees you for who you are, silver face and all.

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  • Claudie Hayat says:

    I never heard of this movie…. but your review makes it quite enticing !…
    Once again, thanks Norma
    I will let you know what I think about it…. because of the weather, I am quite sure that I should find some time to watch it in the very near future !

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