“Sometimes, we operate on the ego level and we feel that we’re in control, but we’re not actually following our destiny, so life gives us a rude awakening…Jung speaks about how every defeat of the ego is a victory of the soul. But since this is a world of free choice, we choose our destiny. And sometimes when we’re not choosing it, life gives us a slap, puts up a limit for us, to help us yield to something we wouldn’t on our own. Suddenly a shift occurs, and we’re open to new energies, and we say, ‘You know what? This is where I’m supposed to be anyway.'”
—Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

“God, it sucks to be fired.”
—Annabelle Gurwitch

For actress Annabelle Gurwitch (TBS’s Dinner and a Movie), it was a dream come true when she was cast in a play directed by entertainment legend Woody Allen. As rehearsals started, though, Allen made his disappointment with her clearly known, allegedly calling her “retarded.” Then he fired her.

Devastated, Gurwitch turned to her friends in the entertainment community, only to discover that they all had stories of their own about being fired, each one more outrageous than the next. This started Gurwitch on a cross-country trek, gathering stories about being fired from friends, colleagues, and pretty much anyone she came across. She first turned these stories into a live show, then a book, and now a documentary.

Gurwitch has certainly tapped into a “collective consciousness” type of thing with Fired!. Just ask anyone you know about a time he or she got fired from a job, and you’ve got yourself a story. It’s something that everyone can relate to, because it’s happened to us all. Getting fired is something you always remember, like how you always remember the first time you rode a bike or how you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard that Britney Spears shaved her head.

Fired! shows just how powerful simple storytelling can be. Some of the most memorable scenes in the film are folks just sharing their anecdotes. They create the entire scene for you, merely through their words and their expressions. A few of these are from Gurwitch’s stage show, but most are anecdotes sprung of simple, everyday conversation. A lot of these tales of workplace woe are far more strange, shocking, or worrisome than a Woody Allen firing could ever be.

There are many famous names among the fired, including Tim Allen (Zoom: Academy for Superheroes), David Cross (Arrested Development), Jeff Garlin, (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Anne Meara (Night at the Museum), Fred Willard, (A Mighty Wind), Richard Kind (Mad About You), Illeana Douglas (Happy, Texas), Harry Shearer (The Simpsons), Ben Stein, (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Fisher Stevens (My Science Project), and many, many more. Non-celebrities Gurwitch runs into include factory workers in Michigan, human resources professionals, and even her own therapist and gynecologist.

When not chatting up with friends and strangers on the topic of firings, Gurwitch stages recreations of her experiences, including a Woody Allen look-alike berating her and her unemployed self shopping for booze in her pajamas and bathrobe. It’s in these scenes that the film becomes more of a manic comedy, and this is nowhere more evident than when actor Tate Donovan (Disney’s Hercules) recreates his firing from the production of 1998’s Torch Song Trilogy entirely with puppets. As dumb as it sounds, this actually works, as Donovan’s story is the most bizarre, culminating in a “truth is stranger than fiction” coincidence.

Although there are plenty of laughs throughout, Gurwitch knows that job loss is serious business and at times she takes a “bigger picture” approach to the topic. She travels to Lansing, Michigan, where thousands of factory worker jobs are either gone or in jeopardy. Union leaders do their best to keep a feeling of hope in the air, but the outlook does not appear promising. She also pays a strange visit to a company that manages mass layoffs for other, bigger companies. Firing people has become “a growth industry,” Gurwitch says.

The downsize, er, I mean downside to combining documentary footage with comedic recreations is that sometimes the line between them is blurred. One expert tells Gurwitch about how some employers treat employees as “square pegs in a round hole.” She then draws a diagram of a triangle to make her point, while Gurwitch continues to prod her about the hole and the peg. Now, was this a comedy sketch planned out in advance, or was this lady genuinely clueless to Gurwitch messing with her? I can’t say. Another scene that straddles this line is when Gurwitch gets comedian Andy Dick (NewsRadio) rehired at a job he was once fired from, in the food service industry. Dick acts like a total goofball—as he always does—and the afternoon ends up more or less a disaster. When the dust settles, Gurwitch makes the point that sometimes there are people who deserve to be fired.

At 70 minutes, Fired! flies by, bombarding the viewer with both funny stories and heartbreaking economic outcasts. It’s a lot to digest all at once. Amid all the comedians and number crunchers, no real conclusion is reached. If there’s a definitive answer out there for the millions of Americans who get booted from the workforce every year, it’s not to be found in this film. Sure, all the tired, old clichés are trotted out, such as “Pain plus time equals laughter” or “For every door that closes, another one opens,” but, at its heart, Fired! is not about answers. It’s about venting. Getting fired generates feelings of frustration, insecurity, and more. Gurwitch and her band of mighty storytellers are roaring from the mountaintops, releasing all those hurt emotions at once, for anyone who will listen and, hopefully, join in.

Fired! arrives on DVD courtesy of the kings and queens of pop culture at the one and only Shout! Factory. The widescreen image is not filled with flashy visuals, but this transfer nonetheless shows it off with accuracy. The 2.0 sound has no immediate flaws, and makes the most of the dialogue and the old-timey piano score. There’s only one major extra, but it’s a good one. A collection of outtakes lasts a good 20 minutes longer than the movie itself and it makes for great watching. Here we get more stories, ones too long for the film, but great pieces of entertainment in their own right. There are also some extended interviews with economists that will really get you thinking and some humorous moments with Illeana Douglas as Gurwitch gets her rehired at a former job as a coat-check girl. These outtakes are a fine companion to the main film, and they help make the DVD an immersive, interactive experience. A few trailers for other Shout! Factory releases are included.

Fired! is an engaging, thought-provoking, and absolutely hilarious film. Annabelle Gurwitch, you’rehired! (At least, in my heart, you are.)

The Verdict

Will the bailiff please hand me the verdict? Oh, I forgot, we laid him off yesterday.

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