The Promotion is a strange little film — not in content but rather the potential of what it could have been. You have some great talent within this film that could have easily pulled this movie off, but it seems to miss the mark. It's likely to divide audiences and have some claiming that others "just don't get the humor." But I get it, and it ain't what it should be.
Doug (played by Sean William Scott) is an assistant manager at Donaldson's Grocery who is hoping for a promotion at a new store that is opening in the area. He is certain he will get the position until Richard (played by John C. Reilly) transfers from a Canadian sister store and decides to go for the same position. Both men find themselves in difficult personal situations that lead them to lows they normally wouldn't resort to just to get the coveted position.
This film strives to emulate the tone of such deadpan and "uncomfortable" comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office. You can see it trying, and it has moments where it almost succeeds, but ultimately it just doesn't hit the mark like those shows do. It really is a tricky thing to pull off. If not done right, you can even lose those who understand and enjoy that type of humor. When I watch Larry David or Ricky Gervais in uncomfortable situations, I do cringe, but I hang on and enjoy every moment of it. But there were a few times I almost wanted to shut this film off because I didn't want to see the consequence of some of the characters' actions. It's that very fine line that you either nail or miss.
Some of the problem might come from Sean William Scott's performance. He's not bad and he's proven himself in the past to be more than Stiffler from the American Pie films, but this film maybe could have been better with someone else in the role, someone a little more adept at comedy. That's not to say Scott doesn't have comedy chops, because he does, I just don't think he was quite right for this role and it adds to the overall feeling of the whole of the film falling a bit short. Another thing that hurts the film is the voiceover Scott gives throughout. It sounds too "read" and seems unnecessary. The movie probably would have been better without it.
Jenna Fischer plays the role of Doug's wife and seems almost wasted in the role. There's not much for her character to do, but it seems like she could have done more. Then there's Lili Taylor who plays Richard's wife. She is a great actress, but she's terribly underused and has a bad Scottish accent in this film. However, Fred Armisen does a great job and is funny as the Donaldson's manager and Gil Bellows as the board executive is pretty dead on (I used to work at a supermarket and have dealt with his type). There's also a decent cameo from Jason Bateman as the retreat host (the retreat is actually one of the funniest parts of the film).
Despite its flaws, there is a line in the movie that is well written and sums up the motivation of the characters in the film: "We're all out here, just looking for food. And sometimes we bump into each other is all." This seems genuine and really speaks to the things we do sometimes despite our better judgment in a competitive world. It's in that line that I finally found some connection to the film and actually cared about the characters. Too bad it was too little too late.
I would have listened to the commentary, but for some reason it didn't seem to work. I tried multiple times but got nothing. It's something I really wanted to listen to in order to get a better feel for what they were trying to achieve and to see what they thought of certain performances, but alas, no go. Outtakes on the Special Features only has one scene and it gets tiresome after the first minute or so. You would think with people like Fred Armisen or John C. Reilly involved they'd have some really good stuff to put on there.
The Promotion is a film you really want to enjoy because it has all the elements a fan of this type of comedy would enjoy with a good cast to back it up, but in the end it just feels a bit disappointing.