Keeping Business

Keeping Company (2021)

A hoodied drug dealer is abducted from the street at night by bespectacled driver Lucas (Jacob Grodnik), who is fixated, Psycho-like, with his dead mother, and still living under the thumb of his domineering grandmother (Suzanne Savoy). A District Attorney (William Russ) campaigns for re-election under the motto ‘sweep the streets’ – and his name, Glen Garrey, instantly evokes the cutthroat real estate world of David Mamet’s near homonymous play. Two insurance salesman – kind-hearted, eager-to-please Noah (Ahmed Baroocha) and cold, cynically ambitious Sonny (Devin Das) – push policies door to door for a company (Caste Insurance) whose triangular logo marks its status as a pyramid scheme, and whose CEO Paula (Gillian Vigman, in hilariously wicked form) regards all the premiums brought in as a personal bankroll for her lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile Sonny’s ultra-disapproving dad (Bernard White) keeps his burger restaurant running on a regular supply of very cheap meat. Josh Wallace’s Keeping Company, which he co-wrote with star Das, lays out all its narrative cards at the outset, before reshuffling them into a chaotic ensemble mosaic of misanthropy, exploitation and rapacity.

The plot gets underway when Noah and Sonny literally collide with Lucas, and end up practically forcing their way into his suburban home to sell him an insurance policy, little realising that their own lives are in the balance from the moment they enter his domain. “There is no way out,” Lucas tells them – and he is in a good position to know, as a man who has himself been prisoner all his life to an inherited ‘code’ and system. Yet as Noah and Sonny seek a means to escape their basement shackles, Sonny’s dad struggles to claim on Sonny’s life insurance, while Paula, unwilling ever to pay out on a policy, has him investigated by two of her underlings (Andy Buckley, Medina Senghore). Things will get out of hand, the vicious will prevail, and no good deed will go rewarded. 

Keeping Company is a Coen-esque comedy, its characters all larger than life and its scenarios exaggerated and absurd – but it is also, owing to a deep vein of cynicism, full of darkness and despair. Paula insists that she is a ‘shark’, and her psychopathically appetitive instincts – her venality, her corruption, her selfishness, her view of everyone else as fodder – will turn out to be attitudes shared by several other characters here. Whether in the office space, the home or the civic arena, these are the dog-eat-dog politics of predation, offering a vision of society as a Darwinian food chain. It is not that there are no decent, or at least conflicted, people here – it is just that they are all victims, their cheery hopes dashed one after the other by a cruel, unforgiving world. So Wallace’s humour comes with a mordant bleakness – and while his dyspeptic vision might seem confined to the fictions of satire, as one character warns us, “It’s no different out there than it is in here.”

strap: Josh Wallace’s bloodily vicious satire exposes the Darwinian predation in our domestic, office and political spaces

© Anton Bitel