Of all the Mike Binder films I’ve seen, The Search for John Gissing is the oldest. It’s also Binder’s most comedy-oriented film. Just arriving on DVD through good, new-fashioned Internet self-distribution, The Search for John Gissing proves once again that Binder is one of the most uniquely talented comedic writer/directors working today.
John Gissing stars the prolific writer, director, and actor Binder as Matthew Barnes, a middle-aged executive who is forced to move to London with his wife Linda (Janeane Garofalo). There, it’s intended that he manage his employer’s acquisition of a German company and take over a position at the London branch. Unfortunately, John Gissing (Alan Rickman), the man Barnes is supposed to replace in London, is in charge of making sure he arrives on time for the meetings. And Gissing knows Barnes is replacing him.
For Barnes, business is war. Gissing and Barnes begin a game of corporate one-upmanship that soon drives Barnes’s wife crazy, while pushing Barnes to his limits as a company man. As the war progresses, Barnes begins to realize this big business thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Like most of Binder’s other films, Gissing is about a middle-aged white man, who, due to the absurdities and pressures of professional life, decides to reevaluate his life. Whereas the stories in Reign Over Me, The Upside of Anger, and Man About Town were more dramatic in tone, Binder’s work in Gissing is a classical farce with his trademark touch of brutal human honesty.
Alan Rickman’s turn in this film is a sight to behold. The downbursts of comedic energy from this stoic Brit are the perfect complement to Binder’s performance as a hot-headed, ham-fisted American. With Garofalo in the mix, as well as Binder’s slightly off-beat moments of comedy writing genius, Gissing is a treat for audiences hungry for something different from their comedy.
The film effortlessly glides from experimental to mainstream on a whim. It holds true to the contemporary setting while harkening back to classic comedies. Some filmmakers seem to get away with it a lot easier than Binder does, but Binder does it on his own terms.
Of course, “on his own terms” means a The Search for John Gissing DVD is only available through The FreeBird. But what are two or three clicks when you get rare and wonderful comedy in return?