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Severance (2005)

Reviewed By Laura Kyle
Posted 11/29/05 10:32:58

"Might have a low budget, but its laughs are far from cheap!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Severance is the kind of flick that just screams Low Budget Indie ...a grainy and minimalist film palette, a narrative that sometimes struggles to find a rhythm, and a bit of clumsy acting... However, director/writer/star Troy Miller's debut film overcomes all these flaws, thanks to a sharp and frequently funny script.

Steve Saddleman (Miller) gets fired from his ordinary, office cubicle job and is handed a nifty severance check (as was Miller, in real life). With time on his hands and money to spend, the formally complacent Steve opts to take a crack at writing and pursue his long-time crush and co-worker (Lauren Zinn) as well as a career as a private detective. Miller didn't become a detective in real life...but he did make a film about a wannabe one.

Miller's screenplay isn't under any impression it's outrageously witty or edgy -- it's not overly ambitious. And what results is a smart comedic fantasy that only dabbles in satire (and even then, it's hardly novel or biting). When Severance works the most, is when it's most sincere in its simple attempt to tell a semi-autobiographical story and get an audience to laugh at it.

Severance got a warm reception at the Austin Film Festival, partly due to the fact that it was filmed locally and also, festivalgoers are an enthusiastic bunch. But the overriding reason it was so popular is because it's a consistently laugh-out-loud affair.

Yet, one big decision Miller could've made differently, that would've drastically improved his film, is if he'd stayed behind the camera and put another actor on the payroll. It's not that he's unlikable -- quite the contrary -- and it's also not as though he's an amateur. A background in theater and a gig at an Austin improvisational group (where he recruited his cast from) certainly prepared him to adequately carry Severance, but there are a few too many moments where he fumbles the comedic timing. Likely a case of just being too close to the material. (The jokes are funny enough however, that it often doesn't even matter if their delivery is imperfect.)

The acting, at large, though, suffers too. The cast is a bit too bent on selling a joke. This is the major problem of Severance: characters that serve up punch-lines left and right but don't ask for much emotional investment from moviegoers. And yet, the cast is so obviously talented; they easily charm moviegoers and make Severance very watchable.

But what deserves the most attention is the script! It's incredibly intelligent and tidy. The story, which evolves from an Office Space-esque tale to a downright farce, is persistently creative. From slapstick gags to clever dialogue, Severance separates itself from other independent films that are also eager for a home at a studio. And hopefully that'll be enough to get it some distribution, which it's definitely worthy of.

After one glance at the shelves at Blockbuster or the marquee at the local theater, it's not hard to emphatically root for an original little comedy like Severance.

With a nod to film noir (Severance is filmed in a pretty black and white, after all, with a good portion of the movie consisting of Steve's daydreams), winks to movies like Office Space and Clerks, and a generous number of borderline hysterical scenes, I won't hesitate to recommend Miller's freshman effort. And I certainly look forward to his future projects.

All in all, a very impressive film! And that's without considering the novice talent and the meager budget.

A modest exterior and some stumbles don't even remotely prevent Severance from being thoroughly enjoyable...and that's a testament to Miller's skills as a filmmaker and the strength of his material.

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