Picking Up the Work

By Phillip Gladkov and Francis Agyapong Jr. | Comedy
All chaos ensues when a blue collar construction guy goes looking for some cheap labor in the wrong part of town.

A construction boss is looking for cheap labor in town. He makes the rounds where day laborers gather, trying to find just the right workers for his job.

First he hits up a group of Latinx workers, but not finding he heeds, he goes to a new part of town: a gentrifying downtown neighborhood, where a group of overeducated millenials await, desperate for jobs.

This satirical short, written and directed by Philip Gladkov and Francis Agyapong Jr., is less a comedy of pranks, gags or slapstick humor and more an absurdist comedy of ideas, with particular resonance with a generation that’s been educated and encouraged to “make a difference,” only to find themselves facing a harsh, hostile world that’s only concerned with getting the job with as little fuss and expense as possible.

As a result, the writing is what stands out in the short, with each line packed with zingers and references to the preoccupations of a demographic that’s come of age in the Buzzfeed era. The dialogue is heightened, but each beat seems to top the previous one with its ridiculousness, and the film invites rewatching, just to catch all of its references.

Captured by a restless documentary-style camera, the young workers vie for jobs, and they call out their educational credentials, most of which gesture to academic approaches of social justice, whether it’s the history of the developing world to deconstructing notions of gender.

But the millenial mob’s desperation ramps up as the construction guy rejects them all. Despite their erudition and knowledge, can these workers build or work construction? Can they do many of the practical demands of blue collar labor? Eventually the group attempts to organize and unify against the boss, but ultimately it’s the construction boss who holds the power — because he holds the jobs that will earn their livelihood.

“Picking Up the Work” presents itself as a kind of mockumentary, with its active, almost frantic camerawork and editing. Intellectually, it’s mocking many things, and actually offers a balanced perspective on its subject. It both laughs at the earnest preoccupations of the young wannabe workers, and pokes fun at their sense of entitlement, but it also gestures at their utter lack of preparation for the real world, where people deal with crappy jobs and bosses that only care if the job gets done.

But the boss, who has the only truly grounded, realistic performance in the short, also has a point: the world also needs people with practical smart, know-how, and the ability to dig into hard work when the job itself isn’t easy, fun or “important.” While “Picking Up the Work” is comedic, it also dramatizes the large gulf between one generation, and one set of expectations, and the next, clashing over the gap between youthful idealism and experienced pragmatism. Onscreen the clash is played for laughs, but the socioeconomic reality it makes fun of surely isn’t, as is the millenial mob’s despair and deflated end.

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