Stuffed with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (pumpkin cheesecake if you wish to pry), my mind is forced to focus on those things that define Thanksgiving: food, family, and discomfort. Ah, those Thanksgiving Day accusations and thinly veiled insults, covered superficially by over-cooked turkey and faux familial warmth.
Check Please captures the true cynical depth of the holiday without concern for the date. After all, dysfunction is for everyone at anytime. Poor Julie seems unaware of that as she takes part in the painful ritual of meeting the boyfriend’s parents. But things seem not to be painful at all. Doug is being affectionate and humorous, in that too-broad-for-reality way most grown children adopt around their folks. His parents are his equal in fake pleasantness. With superb food, it’s hard to see how it could go better. Then the check comes.
The situation is a familiar one, which is exactly what I want in a five-minute comedy where there is no time to create new worlds. We’ve all been there, both in that first family meeting, and in the argument over who pays the check. Check Please finds the absurdity in the situation, and amplifies it fifty-fold, giving it that dark edge that lifts it above the quick-joke-routine fray. Monty Python became masters of this brand of humor closing in on forty years ago with sketches like “The Dirty Fork.” This too is sketch comedy, just quite a few notches up from your standard SNL gag.
Director and co-writer Larry Ziegelman learned his craft in advertising, where his commercials have won numerous awards. The move from one-minute advertising productions to five-minute short films is a sidestep, with all the skills from one transferring naturally to the other. Check Please isn’t a “directorially” tricky piece. There’s one table, five actors, and not much movement. But Zieglman makes it look good, and uses the camera to give just enough variety to what is essentially a static event. It’s made a splash on the festival circuit and won the state of Illinois’s film contest.