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CIFF 2016 – Middle Man

October 21, 2016



It’s always cool to see films by local filmmakers bring their work to the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) each year. The dark comedy “Middle Man”, from Chicagoan Ned Crowley is one such film. This is the feature-length debut for the writer and director, who has also published children’s books, written and directed comedy sketches for stage and is a CCO for a commercial ad agency. I’m exhausted just thinking about all that. “Middle Man” is the kind of twisted, humorous tale I grew up watching on “Tales from the Darkside” and it asks questions such as “How far are you willing to go to follow your dream?” and “Once you’ve grabbed your dream, do you go with your feelings or what you know to be right?”






Jim O’Heir (“Parks and Recreation”)  plays Lenny, a nebbish CPA who should’ve never left Peoria, IL to pursue stand-up comedy in Las Vegas. He’s shy, polite and kind with an affinity for old school comedy like Abbot & Costello and Martin & Lewis, which has him dreaming of becoming a comedian. The thing is: he’s not funny. He doesn’t know it and no one’s ever told him.  After his mother dies, Lenny quits his job and drives to Las Vegas in the ’53 Oldsmobile she left him, hoping to appear on Monte Guy’s annual “Stand-Up Stand-Off” and hit it big. He hits a bit of a detour after picking up a talkative heliophobic hitchhiker, appropriately named Hitch (Andrew J. West “The Walking Dead”), who directs Lenny to a lone desert town and encourages Lenny to try his material out on the patrons at the Yuck Stop (it used to be called Truck Stop), including cocky headliner, T-Bird (Josh McDermitt “The Walking Dead”)  and his girlfriend, Grail (Anne Dudek, “Mad Men”), who takes a liking to Lenny. When Lenny bombs on stage, things take an unexpectedly bloody and deadly turn, sending the amateur down a macabre path while becoming funnier and funnier on stage.

The standout of “Middle Man” is Crowley’s screenplay, which offers witty dialogue for these actors to embrace.  The characters that Lenny interacts with are rich and colorful, even if they play to certain stereotypes (that’s kind of intentional), and O’Heir has a naturalness that absolutely nails Lenny’s unexpected character arch with great subtlety. It’s nice to see him get a role that upends any expectations we may have of him based on his “Parks and Rec” work and look forward to following what he and Crowley will be doing next.




Tuesday, October 18th at 8:30pm – directer/writer Ned Crowley is scheduled to attend.
Friday, October 21st at 9:30pm – directer/writer Ned Crowley and actor Jim O’Heir are scheduled to attend
Saturday, October 22th at 12:30pm – directer/writer Ned Crowley and actor Jim O’Heir are scheduled to attend






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