Annie Baker’s “The Flick” puts the mundane into the spotlight
Growing up is never easy, as anyone who has ever done so can attest. Most of us have resorted to lowering our expectations, or clinging to the vestiges of adolescence as long as possible – yet the pain remains real no matter the age. Annie Baker’s The Flick, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, shows this evocatively, by examining the dull daily lives of perennial underachievers and movie theater ushers Sam (Jason Cloud), Avery (Daniel Annoh) and Rose (Denise Teipel), who sweep leftover popcorn from the floor of a rundown Massachusetts cinema. When asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The 35-year-old underpaid Sam gives a heartbreakingly relatable answer: “I already am grown up.”
Entrenched in his unfulfilling life, Sam robotically shows the ropes to the latest hire, Avery, a rich college kid whose youth comes with hope and enthusiasm. The chemistry between free-spirited projectionist Rose and the two guys drives the action: her fearlessness and confidence intimidates young Avery while frustrating Sam, who is hopelessly in love with her. The characters desperately combat the monotony of their lives, attempting to form meaningful interactions in their dead-end job. When Rose gets Avery alone and tries to make a move, she’s rejected in classic millennial fashion, as Avery cannot cope with entanglements while he’s taking time off from his expensive college to deal with his anxiety. This results in a brief cynical exchange about mental health – a little barb at this generation’s obsession with self-diagnosis. Eventually, Avery’s ill-fated involvement in the questionable “employee tradition” of scamming the cinema encouraged by his two veteran colleagues exposes the three character’s dysfunctional understanding of honest relationships.
With seemingly mundane dialogue, The Flick demonstrates that life is what happens in the moments between the grandiose stories projected on the silver screen; and unlike the movies, people aren’t always heroic and endings aren’t always happy. It’s also a testimonial to the good old days of theater and film – only a true screen junkie can successfully keep up with the geeky conversation between Sam and Avery, filled with witty movie references and a touching monologue on the importance of 35-millimeter film. The tragedy of digitalization looms over the plot and makes you wonder what the future holds for communal entertainment. As said by Baker herself, the play is a “face-off” between the audience and the reality shown on stage. Will cinemas and theater also fall victim to technology? The Flick gives no answers, leaving it to the viewer to decide.
Convention is absent in the production – no costumes, underlying philosophy or “high” drama – but The Flick’s charm lies is in its well-timed comedy, Baker’s natural, flowing dialogue and uncanny depiction of people we know all too well from real life. The Vienna Theater Project’s set is spot-on and immersive, allowing Cloud’s, Annoh’s and Teipel’s authentic performance to resonate and make this lengthy (3 hours) play easily enjoyable to sit through. Bittersweet and relatable, it makes adulting almost bearable.