Moving Pictures
Aug 11, 2023, 06:28AM

Mommy Longlegs

Full Time is a tense Safdie-esque thriller about a universally stressful situation: interviewing for a new job.

Full1 wbfm videosixteenbynine3000.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

As the WGA strike passes its 100th day, with its partner SAG-AFTRA close behind, I sense that the vast majority of the country, while sympathetic to the strikers, doesn’t spend much time thinking about them or whether any negotiation is imminent. Most people are too busy worrying about their own personal economic and labor issues to give much thought to anyone else’s, much less Hollywood’s. When you’re worried about making next month’s rent, the labor disputes of writers and actors can understandably seem far off, unrelated to your own, maybe insignificant. Even those who are able to see the connection between their labor troubles and the entertainment industry’s are usually too overworked and underpaid to further advance the collective interest. And unlike, say, a transit or sanitation strike, this one mostly affects people working directly (actors, writers, editors, photographers, production assistants, caterers, etc.) or indirectly (financers, distributors, theater owners, network programmers) in movies and TV. If UPS workers went on strike and people stopped receiving packages—which was a very real possibility until last week’s deal—the company would likely resolve the dispute a lot faster than the AMPTP.

This dissonance—the misery of working in the post-industrial service/gig economy and the resulting exhaustion and indifference to improving the material working standards within that economy—is maybe the defining sentiment of my generation, and we all handle it differently. Some choose to focus on the other pillars of social justice, removing class and labor from the equation entirely. (It reminds me of those lawn signs for upper-middle-class libs that bundle all the usual slogans together—Black Lives Matter, No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real, etc.—while always conveniently leaving out stuff like Health Care Is A Human Right or Fair Wages For All.) Some join socialist organizations like DSA and campaign for left-leaning candidates like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Some turn to the reactionary voices of the far-right, who pin all the world’s problems, financial or otherwise, on a shadowy cabal of deep state globalists. Some organize, either within their own workplaces or among a broader coalition of workers.

But most people just deal. They go to their shitty jobs, and if they’re lucky, they don’t have any kids whom they’re legally required to feed and clothe (not to mention educate) with their meager earnings. Those who do have kids often find themselves in the middle of irreconcilable responsibilities. That’s where Julie (Laure Calamy) is when we meet her in Full Time. She’s a divorcée living in a suburb on the outskirts of Paris with her two kids, trying to get to her job as head maid at a fancy Parisian hotel during a transit strike. She used to have a job in marketing, but gave it up for a few years to focus on parenting. Now she’s got an interview for a better paying work-from-home marketing gig, which means she needs to break away from the hotel without her taskmaster boss Sylvie (Anne Suarez) finding out and somehow make it to the remote interview without a car or public transit.

The escalating precarity and tenseness of Julie’s scenario combined with Irène Drésel’s pulsing electronic score make the Safdie Brothers comparisons inevitable, and it’s useful to look at Full Time in conversation with the Safdies’ films. In some ways, it feels like more of a Safdie movie than Daddy Longlegs, a similarly tense film about the tough decisions one makes as a single parent in a demanding job. Julie never does anything as irresponsible as drugging her children with sleeping pills so she can work a shift, but she does continually ask too much of those around her. She asks co-workers (almost all women of color) to cover for her constantly. She asks the door man at the hotel to call cabs for her, something that’s forbidden and could get him fired. She practically forces her elderly neighbor (Geneviève Mnich) to watch her children, even as the old woman protests.

In a way, Julie’s the sweeter middle-class female analog of Connie (Robert Pattinson) in the Safdies’ Good Time. She uses a deadly combo of sweetness, charm, good looks, and desperation to manipulate the people around her and exploit their generosity. In one scene, she recognizes another mom from her child’s class on a train platform. She doesn’t hesitate to approach her and, after the briefest small talk about the strike, ask if she’d mind watching her kids after school. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable moment, someone so obviously transgressing the unstated bounds between relative strangers, made all the worse by the mom’s firm rejection of her request.

Much like the Safdies’ films, Full Time immerses the viewer in the perspective of a problematic character, and by extension, implicates them in the character’s misdeeds. But unlike Good Time, Uncut Gems or Heaven Knows What, Full Time has no element of criminality or vice. Julie’s not a degenerate like Connie or Howie. She’s presentable, respectable—a onetime member of the bourgeoisie who has fallen beneath her station. The same way Connie wears a mask of respectability to elude law enforcement, Julie must pretend to her prospective employers that she’s not what she is: a maid. She must buy clothes and take transportation she can’t afford. She must lock herself in bathrooms at work to take job-related calls. In order to get the job she so badly needs, she has to pretend to not really need it.

In spite of her boundary issues, Julie is still much more sympathetic than a Safdie protagonist. She is, after all, a mom. Almost every bad decision she makes is an attempt to improve her and her children’s lives. And the suggestions her neighbors and friends offer to improve her situation—move to an apartment in the city, get a job at a nearby supermarket, ask her globe-trotting ex to send overdue alimony payments for the 1000th time—are ill-considered and unhelpful. It’s very easy to see things from her point-of-view, to see how she got into her current mess and to want her to find a way out. The film’s coda—in which Julie, under the impression she’s out of a job with zero prospects, receives a surprise call from her new employer, telling her she has the marketing gig—is a genuine relief, given what we’ve seen her go through. It is, for all intents and purposes, a happy ending.

But in a movie filled with ironies—for instance, the way that mass strikes can hamper low-wage workers while largely sparing the managerial class—there’s a depressing irony at play that’s subtle enough to miss: in order to make her interview for the job she gets, Julie asks an immigrant maid named Lydia (Mathilde Weil)—a mother of two, as Sylvie points out to her during a scolding—to swipe her timecard, which Lydia is fired for while Julie skates with a warning. Lydia’s story likely doesn’t end with a surprise call from a marketing firm. Like Connie, Julie’s gain is someone else’s loss, someone poorer and browner than her. And similar to the picketing transit workers or the crowds marching in the streets, Lydia’s just one more face Julie doesn’t have time to think about, one more voice that’s drowned out in the din of familial and career obligations. We shall overcome. The rest of you are on your own.


Register or Login to leave a comment