Review of The Ordinaries (2022)

Moving picture, 120 minutes

Seen in 2023.

Paula Feinmann attends Main Character School to join the glamorous world of the leads. Her mother, a Supporting Character, has only limited dialogue. Paula has trouble generating the appropriate music for the upper class’s consonant displays of strong emotion. Her flaw leads her to investigate an archival discrepancy and uncover a brutal class war to cut the unwanted.

The Ordinaries is a black comedy: A dystopia that builds an allegory for social justice with humour. Some of its metafictional jokes land well, especially the shy Simon’s jump-cut come-ons and the bombing scene. However, the basic premises of the setting—“Storyworld”—aren’t worked out.

Consider the economy of Storyworld. It is implied that everyone there works to make movies, or serves those who do. One scene shows an active set where, presumably, a movie is being recorded. There is a stage hand shouting cues, but there is no director or camera on screen, and no editor. Score music is made by each character, not by composers or musicians. The opening narration implies that movies made in Storyworld are viewed in Storyworld, but the last line instead presents the existence of “the audience” as a matter of religious faith. There is no self-consistent implication that moviemaking in Storyworld is religious, pecuniary, political, or driven by social status. Moviemaking is an axiom that exists purely for extradiegetic purposes, hence the name Storyworld: A mere backdrop for the nonsensical plot of The Ordinaries.

Black-and-white characters in Storyworld apparently make up a human race, but there is never any reference to how they were replaced by people of colour. The setting is actually uchronian, as far as the technology goes, but the social attitudes are up to the minute. Melanin-rich actors have juicy parts, but as with the black-and-white race, there is never any reference to how pinkish-beige actors were replaced by people of colour. There is a faint implication that animation exists in some form, but that too is strangely marginal and self-contradictory; it’s no Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). The allegory about social justice gets very thin when economy and race are both excluded from consideration. In their place, the social stratification of Storyworld is implied to be some generic Republic lie about how each individual is only suited to one job, but even that goes nowhere. The plot ends in pointless abstraction.

Consider the relationship between the plot and the film. Characters are sometimes aware of how they’re framed; a character heard in a voice-over can extemporize beyond the text of the letter they’re reading, revealing that they know the script; there is a fake credits sequence where each character is described as being played by an actor of the same name, and so on. However, The Ordinaries is not like a film made in Storyworld. The so-called Outtakes who make up the lowest caste of Storyworld society can take centre stage and speak freely, one of them as a romantic lead. Paula obviously has many real feelings, but neither she nor her scoring “Heart Reader” tend to notice them. All of her metafictional knowledge is fleeting, used only for jokes and not to take control. This is just as it would be in a ZAZ comedy. It is surprising in that regard that there are no jokes about how the script is plagiarized from a hundred other YA stories where a troubled teenager discovers the dark truth about her dystopia and emerges as a hero.

Ultimately, The Ordinaries has no depth. It is not science fiction. It is funny, but less funny than many other metafictional comedies, such as “Doctor Sketchy and the Strange Case of the Syndrome of Doom” (2023; Nikolas Lloyd and Alasdair Beckett-King) which I saw on the same day. It is just a coincidence that when I saw The Ordinaries at GIFF 2023, the festival’s opening talk was delivered with unusual brevity and flat affect, as it would have been by a Supporting Character, and that after the movie ended, the projectionist forgot to bring up the house lights, so that the theatre stayed black while the audience stumbled out.

moving picture fiction