Employee of the Month (Tribeca Review): A Flat Satire
Employee of the Month features two leading performances that shine far brighter than the humdrum, outdated satire they’re stuck in.
Employee of the Month (L’Employée du Mois) is one of the Tribeca films that I was most interested in seeing for its topics and setup. Directed by Véronique Jadin, it seems like a strong premise on paper: middle-aged Ines (Jasmina Douieb) has been working at EcoCleanPro for nearly two decades, always working hard and tirelessly to satisfy her coworkers, including her boss Patrick (Peter Van Den Begin). Unfortunately, these efforts go unappreciated by her entitled, misogynistic coworkers, and Patrick refuses to give her a raise despite her working harder than them. When this all pushes Ines over the edge, she ends up accidentally killing Patrick, with her young intern Melody (Laetitia Mampaka) as her unintentional accomplice. The two of them then have to cover up their crime and clean up their mess… which is made harder when Ines gets more and more trigger-happy towards anyone who catches on to what they’ve done.
Conceptually, Employee of the Month, in the right hands, could be a frantic, funny yet intense, scathing dark comedy. But in execution, only bits and pieces of that really shine through in specific instances, and this is the most disappointing film I’ve seen for Tribeca so far. I could tell that the film was in trouble early on when I saw the very, very simplified ways in which Ines is mistreated and abused in the workplace. Her coworkers are openly sexist and don’t even try to hide it, her boss is clearly discriminating against her and only slightly trying to hide it, and those who could do something about all this simply don’t care. This all admittedly makes Ines very easy to side with even as her actions get more extreme, and it makes you not even remotely sorry for the people she harms. I also know that this kind of garbage behavior, to varying extents, has and probably still does happen in actual work environments.
But this “commentary” is so simplified, so hard to buy with what these men get away with, and worst of all, so stale in how it handles the subject matter. Employee of the Month has nothing new or interesting to show regarding gender inequality that we haven’t seen ad nauseum, nor does it have any new perspectives to latch onto, which makes the stretch of the film leading up to the murder particularly tedious. I know that satires are supposed to exaggerate things, but even these exaggerations are tired beyond belief. The men are abusive and sexist, and the two leading women are underpaid and harassed… and that’s as deep as it goes. As important as these issues are, this movie addresses them in the most been-there-done-that manner possible, with the writing feeling like it belongs more in a television sketch than a feature film.
Even the filmmaking has that TV vibe. Don’t get me wrong, Employee of the Month looks fine, and I’m not expecting anything visually glorious from a film that takes place entirely in an office. But nothing really sticks out, and the pacing and editing don’t provide the film with the energy it really needs. Everything flows a bit awkwardly in a way that doesn’t enhance the comedy or even the drama, giving a very dry feel to a film whose humor is anything but dry. I can maybe see this contrast working, but not so much here.
Once the violence begins, Employee of the Month gets a little more fun with the catharsis of seeing these unlikeable people get their comeuppance, but it’s still very shallow and even tame, making this an underwhelming film even from a pure entertainment perspective. There’s no bite to Employee of the Month, nothing shocking or hilariously dark that sticks with you. For this film to have worked, it needed to either sharpen up the writing and make it a lot fresher and smarter, or it needed to really push its violent, frantic sequences much farther to create a simultaneously funny and stressful environment. As is, very little stands out, even when it comes to lines or ideas that should have gotten bigger laughs than they did.
The cast is easily the biggest highlight here. Jasmina Douieb brings the perfect energy to Ines, portraying her as someone who’s so visibly nervous and unhappy that you feel incredibly sorry for her, but with the slightest hint of being a few steps away from just cracking and doing something drastic. And sure enough, as the film goes on, she’s proven to have way more pent-up aggression than even we could have anticipated. She doesn’t even seem that freaked out when she kills her boss, and as the film progresses, she humorously embraces the violent streak she’s on. Laetitia Mampaka plays really well opposite her, growing in her own way into someone who grows increasingly fed up with Ines’s antics and calls out the selfish side of them. The evolving dynamic of these two easily steals the show and injects some desperately-needed life into the film. I hope that both these actresses have better opportunities ahead of them, because I really think they could both be widely beloved with the right breakout roles.
Employee of the Month is very disappointing from the outset and never fully amounts to something I could really enjoy. Once in a great while I found myself laughing, and there are a few really small clever moments, but I otherwise found myself forgetting about this dark comedy very shortly after finishing it. Two great leads and a good concept aren’t enough to save the film from a bare-bones, outdatedly simple execution and lackluster production. At least the film is very short, coming in at just over 70 minutes, which means that even though I’m not recommending it, there’s very little harm in giving it a shot if you want to. I’m sorry to be harsh on an indie that’s clearly well-intentioned and has some merit, but it’s hard to not be when it’s as bland as an actual day in a low-paying office job.
Employee of the Month premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2022.