Michael Binder is a gifted American comedian and writer. And he is reportedly quite an Anglophile. And it was with his love of things British that he created The Search for John Gissing
Gissing is Michael Binder’s very American comedy set in London. Starting out as a “fish out of water” tale, Matthew Barnes (Binder, who also wrote the screenplay) and his wife Linda (Janeane Garofalo) move to the UK when Matthew is transferred by his company to oversee the acquisition of his company by a much bigger fish in the pond. Handpicked to run the takeover, he does not know, however, that he has been sent to replace John Gissing, a long time company employee and Barnes’ UK counterpart.
With Gissing’s role reduced to facilitating the younger upstart Barnes in making the acquisition presentation to a German concern, he sets up a series of diversions, misdirection, and dirty tricks aimed at sabotaging Barnes’ presentation and his stay in London. Finally figuring out that Gissing is gunning for him, Barnes turns the tables, but eventually works with Gissing (not entirely voluntarily) to work the acquisition.
I love smart comedy; I even like silly comedy when it’s done well. It’s one of the reasons I usually enjoy British comedy films. Yes, they can be silly and broad, but suffused with heavy doses of irony and aridly dry wit. The Search for John Gissing is broad without any slyness and wit. It’s as if it’s dressed up in an expensive Savile Row suit, but with nowhere to go. It’s a broad and loudly American comedy with lots of British window dressing, including the quintessential British actors like Alan Rickman and Juliet Stephenson (both of whom I adore). And lots of hammy, over-the-top acting.
Binder is charming in a bewildered American stereotypical sort of way and Garofalo is excellent as his wife. When I’d heard about the film, I thought it was a neat idea to take on British comedy by Americanizing it. Rickman and Stephenson (who starred together in one of my all-time favorite movies, Truly, Madly, Deeply), are fun, with Rickman really stealing the movie as the insane Gissing. But where British comedic films temper broad comedy with irony and aridly dry humor, this film was just too broad, too unrealistic, and too predictable for my taste.
No one in the film, from the protagonist Barnes to the corporate executives (including a French CEO) and to the wily John Gissing himself is very bright. Well, except maybe Linda, who is in nearly perpetual foot-tapping “pissy” mode, just wanting to leave the madness and go home. I’m with her.
The DVD includes several extras, including Binder’s commentary, and outtakes from the film.