Comedies about men stuck in a rut are nothing new. The last decade has been flooded with tales of men unwilling to get their lives together. At first glance, Andrew Cohn’s The Last Shift appears to fall into this already overstuffed subgenre, but a deeper dive reveals something slightly more nuanced and complex.
After 38 years of working at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish fast-food restaurant, Stanley (Richard Jenkins) is finally ready to call it quits. A high school drop out and dedicated worker, who treats the company rule book like a bible, Stanley has become a staple on the graveyard shift. Well-known by the late-night regulars, he freely imparts his words of wisdom to local teens, blissfully unaware that he is the butt of their jokes.
As his final days are quickly approaching, Stanley’s manager Shazz (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) tasks him with training his replacement Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie) over the course of his final weekend. Fresh off a stint in prison for vandalizing a monument, Jevon is a talented writer who cannot seem get his life moving forward in the right direction. Told by his probation officer (Allison Tolman) that if he does not maintain a job he will be sent back to jail to serve the remaining 10 months of his sentence, Jevon has no choice but make the best of his current situation.
While both men slowly start to form a mutual appreciation for each other, The Last Shift never indulges in the opposites attract antics found in traditional Odd Couple style comedies. Cohn’s film ensures that the audience is astutely aware of the racial undercurrents that keep the men from truly connecting. Stanley and Jevon each feel that life has dealt them a horrible hand, but only Jevon can see that Stanley’s skin colour gives him a valuable trump card. One that will ensure a certain privilege that Jevon could only dream of having.
Of course, Stanley does not see himself as having any privileges. In his eyes, one just needs to work hard if you want to succeed in life. The funny thing is, despite these supposed beliefs, Stanley still walks around like it is life that owes him something. His misguided sense of pride not only blinds him to the realities of the world around him, but also shields him from the consequences of his actions, including events in the past that still haunt him to this day.
In exploring the nature of privilege, and the systems that hold individuals back, The Last Shift raises some intriguing questions that are ripe for exploration. Unfortunately, Cohn’s film does not dive as deep as the topics warrant. Though the film acknowledges that both men bear some responsibility for their current predicaments, by trying to place Stanley and Jevon on equal footing the film inadvertently downplays the systemic biases that it is attempting to point out.
On one hand, Cohn wants to show that, even when living in a world that is inherently built to benefit one skin colour over another, friendships can be formed between individuals on seemingly opposite sides of the same coin. However, Stanley is not above using his privilege when it is convenient.
As a result, one not only questions the catalyst for Jevon’s supposed growth, but whether Stanley has learned anything at all. Jenkins, who gives a wonderful turn that physically embodies a man beaten down by years of labour, and McGhie, who conveys the perfect mixture of angst and heart, are great in the film. Each bringing a rich and subtle texture to their roles. However, their fine performances only further highlight the missed opportunities for the film to present truly thought-provoking commentary. The Last Shift is a well-intentioned tale that unfortunately stays too close to the surface.