SXSW 2021 Review: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break wins the award for best movie title I’ve encountered this year. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its bizarre name, despite solid efforts from its cast and a promisingly bonkers plotline.

The film follows the titular Paul Dood (Tom Meeten), a charity shop worker who still lives with his mom (June Watson) and is a bit of a loser. However, he has a big dream: he wants to make it big on the Trend Ladder Talent Show, an America’s Got Talent-type show—or Britain’s Got Talent, in this case. Paul constantly livestreams on Trend Ladder, a clear Instagram ripoff but one with a ladder you can climb up in real time until you become the number one trending video. Paul, suffice to say, does not attract that many Trend Ladder hits.

After a series of misfortunes, Paul arrives late to his audition, and even after appealing to Trend Ladder Talent Show host and mega celebrity Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) to get a chance, he bombs the audition. Paul’s day only gets worse from there, and so he begins plotting his revenge on those who made him miss his audition.

It’s a fun, kooky premise, but the film can never quite figure out what it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s a ridiculous parody of slasher films; other times, it tries to be a serious meditation on grief, or a critique of social media. However, director Nick Gillespie, try as he might, never succeeds in getting these elements to gel together, and the result is a film that ping pongs wildly between tones, never staying with one idea long enough to have much of an impact. 

Paul, though played well by Meeten, suffers the most from the film’s indecision: one moment he seems to be ready to accept his losses, but the next he returns to his attempted killing spree, spurred on by his rising Trend Ladder fame that he seemed to have forgotten about in the previous scene. The inability of the film to commit to its absurd premise also leaves certain moments, like a hostage crisis towards the end of the film, caught in between two opposite urges: on the one hand, the scenario is deliberately unbelievable, but on the other, Gillespie tries to play it too straight, and these incompatible impulses render the scene impotent.

Still, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break manages to be juuuust engaging enough to keep you watching. There were moments where I saw the glimmers of a much stronger movie lurking beneath the surface, but the movie shied away before it could change from duckling to swan. It’s a frustrating experience more than anything: the elements are all there for this movie to succeed, but Paul Dood simply lacks the bite he needs to make this movie worthy of climbing the Trend Ladder.

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