Film review | Girlfriend's Day: Anti-romantic misfire of the year… and it’s only February

Girlfriend’s Day could have easily been workshopped as catnip for the bitter anti-Valentine’s Day crowd, given the sad-sack story at its centre • 1/5

Card-carriers: Bob Odenkirk and Amber Tamblyn in Netflix’s Girlfriend’s Day
Card-carriers: Bob Odenkirk and Amber Tamblyn in Netflix’s Girlfriend’s Day

As some of you readers may have noticed, over the past few weeks I’ve made a bit of an effort to branch outside of the conventional brick-and-mortar cinemas to explore what’s been happening on the streaming services (legally) available to us. I am of course referring to Netflix, the now globally-available purveyor of film and TV that’s capitalized on the realisation that we tend to prefer to watch stuff at home these days. 

There have been a couple of gems on there recently – among them Werner Herzog’s documentary about the internet, Lo and Behold – along with some uninspired but passable entertainment, such as the British ‘Netflix Original’ iBoy. But as is perhaps inevitable, any enterprise beholden to the bottom line is bound to churn out some duds every now and then. 

For Netflix, that iconic misfire may just be attributed to Girlfriend’s Day – starring and co-written by Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul actor Bob Odenkirk, and which debuted on Valentine’s Day. But should you think that this signals romantic comfort food, you’d find yourself sorely disappointed. If anything, Girlfriend’s Day – directed by Michael Stephenson – could have easily been workshopped as catnip for the bitter anti-Valentine’s Day crowd, given the sad-sack story at its centre. 

Bad boss: Alex Kapovsky and Odenkirk
Bad boss: Alex Kapovsky and Odenkirk

By that I mean the story of Ray (Odenkirk) a formerly-great greeting card writer who is sacked from his company for, well, not being as great as he once was. On top of still feeling the burn of his divorce – his wife, Karen (June Diane Raphael), left him for a successful children’s illustrator, Harold Lamb (Andy Richter) – Ray now can’t even afford to pay rent for his grubby apartment. Knowing Ray is in a desperate enough of a position to accept the task, his former boss involves him in a shady deal – he needs to write an excellent card (“like [he] used to”) for a mysterious client in exchange for a large payload. As is to be expected, things spiral out of control quickly enough – with shady and violent characters suddenly worming their way into Ray’s life – but he finds a beacon of hope in Jill (Amber Tamblyn) – who is, ironically enough, a woman just about as cynical as he is. 

You can just about spot the good intentions behind Girlfriend’s Day. It has the stirrings of a lighthearted indie film that’s heavy on quirkiness but that aims to bludgeon you with a ‘charm offensive’ that would shame Wes Anderson back into obscurity. From the deadpan humour that suffuses nearly every scene – starting with Ray giving a nostalgic ‘wise old man’ pep talk to his younger colleagues; and remember, this is the greeting card business we’re talking about here – and the weirdos who populate the entire film from start to finish (side-by-side with cookie cutter archetypes), here’s a film that aims to be a little bit different while never quite leaving its comfort zone.

Instead, we get a film that’s so half-baked it collapses in on itself roughly ten minutes into its running time. While Odenkirk does his usual schtick with some success, it feels more like lazy outtakes from Better Call Saul than anything executed with bona fide comedic conviction, and the script – which he co-writes with Philip Zlotorynski and Eric Hoffman – dovetails into a film noir structure that seems to aim for Coen Bros greatness but falls flat on its ass in a manner that would befit the hapless gumshoes of the genre.

A failed attempt at both quirky comedy-drama as well as film noir deconstruction, Girlfriend’s Day shows us that not all Netflix experiments make for satisfying experiences that offer a viable alternative to churned-out Hollywood dross. Pity.

Girlfriend’s Day is currently streaming on Netflix