Review by Sean Boelman
Slamdance is often referred to as the quirkier, more indie alternative to Sundance, as the former is where you find many of the more idiosyncratic, smaller-budget discoveries of the year. Filmmaker Pete Ohs is no stranger to the festival world — his previous feature, Jethica, having premiered at SXSW — and his latest film, Love and Work, is a nice little satirical comedy, even if it seems to think it’s more profound than it is.
The movie follows two aimless people living in a world where having a job is illegal, which is unfortunate, because they love to work. In many ways, this high-concept comedy feels like a mixture of mumblecore and lo-fi sci-fi. It’s on a very particular, weird wavelength, but audiences who are willing to meet it on its quirky level are in for a delightful little romp.
It will probably come as no surprise that this absurdist premise is tied to some pretty staunchly anti-consumerist themes. There’s absolutely no subtlety to be found here — with a narrator even going so far as to outright state the central thesis of the film in the final moments — and in many ways, it feels like preaching to the choir, as the audience that will seek out a low-fi indie like this probably already agree with its sentiments.
Similarly, the humor is also rather one-note. The first twenty to thirty minutes have a novelty to them that’s quite funny, but the movie reveals its hand a bit too early. At under 75 minutes in total runtime, Love and Work is still breezy and agreeable. However, the attempts at jokes in the back half are somewhat uneven.
That said, the film is kept consistently engaging with some interesting bits of world-building sprinkled throughout. For example, an explanation of the underground slang — best described as a Cockney-esque secret language for workaholics — is pretty ingenious and goes a long way in immersing the viewer in the movie’s “past of another future.”
This is clearly a micro-budget indie, but the style goes a long way in making it feel a lot bigger than it actually is. There’s a simple worker’s tune used as a motif in the film, which functions perfectly as a comedy song. The movie looks very good, too. The black-and-white cinematography is an age-old trick for independent filmmakers, but it is used here in an incredibly deliberate way.
It also helps that the characters are pretty charming and relatable. The “love” in the title refers to the romantic comedy aspect of the story, which kicks in mostly in the back half, and really humanizes these characters on an even deeper level than we already empathize with them. Despite the absurdity, the film manages to remain firmly grounded in emotion.
Love and Work is an effective, if simple micro-budget satire from Pete Ohs. Although it’s entirely obvious what the movie’s trying to say, and it doesn’t offer any particularly profound observations we haven’t heard before, it has more than enough quaint charm to have a solid life as an indie gem on the festival circuit and beyond.
Love and Work is screening at the 2024 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs January 19-25 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 22-28.