Film Analysis | Film Reviews


1 Nov , 1999  

Written by Chris Cooke | Posted by:

A review of 'Temps.'
As a member of the so-called Generation X, I have always been more than a little wary of journalistic and artistic attempts at portraying the lives of my peers. So I approached "Temps" with a critical eye, not expecting to enjoy it much.

"Temps," a film by Five Sisters Productions (director Maria Burton, screenwriter Gabrielle Burton, and sisters Jennifer, Ursula, and Charity) is about a handful of late 20-somethings in Boston who struggle to find their own way in the world, somewhere between the conventional, family- and work-centered lives of their parents and their own, most likely futile dreams of artistic success. Daunted by the near certainty of making less money than their parents and disillusioned by the mercenary indifference of today’s corporate workplace, they are both spoiled and cursed by their vast potential and freedom, obsessed yet inhibited by their desire to achieve greatness in the face of their inevitably ordinary lives.

We’ve heard all this before, of course; but the film has an engaging sincerity to it, and I found myself identifying with and liking the characters, charmed by the film’s low-key and pleasant approach to a topic that is often morosely overblown, tainted by gratuitous moping.

The film centers around Ally (Gabrielle Burton), who temps to support her tenuous career in film. "I’m an aspiring filmmaker," she tells us–then adds, as if to convince herself as much as us, "No. I’m a filmmaker." Her current project is (surprise, surprise) a documentary about disillusioned Gen Xers who work temps jobs. "Temps," you see, contains a film-within-a-film, a device that in some hands could be merely clever but here seems natural, an honest way for these characters to analyze themselves and speak openly about their concerns. Much of the material for Ally’s film comes from her friends, and she records their conversations at every opportunity, probing their worries for all they’re worth. Jonah (Tim Bohn) has quit his law career to work as a temp by day and write his novel by night, despite the fact that he’s never even finished a story. Jane (Ursula Burton) shuffles from job to job, finding work wherever she can, be it in the laundry room of a motel or as a gynecological model. And Georgia (Katrina Stevens) is a software designer who is frustrated by her employer’s profit-minded intentions for the technology she developed for educational software, not to mention his inappropriate inclination for hugs.

The foil for all these maladjusted souls is Ally’s boyfriend Ben (Robert Pemberton), who holds a stable, well-paid, "real" job and knows what he wants: a career and a family. He wants to start this family with Ally, but he’s not sure he wants to wait around for her. Unable to see why these friends of his don’t give up their hopeless attempts at art and get on with their lives, he gives Ally an ultimatum: move in with him, and thus begin the transition from aspiring artist to full-time worker, wife, and parent, or else. When Ally gets a job (unpaid, of course) at the Sunscreen Film Festival, she feels it is her last chance at keeping both her relationship and her dreams of a professional film career alive.

I have yet to see a Gen X movie that I could accurately describe as gripping (maybe, though, this is only form reflecting content–how compelling can the aimless, uncertain, ordinary story of an aimless, uncertain, ordinary young adult be?), and "Temps" is no exception. Perhaps the film-within-a-film device is a bit of a crutch, used at times to explain the character’s concerns rather than evoke them through development of the plot. So while not a powerhouse, "Temps" is certainly a compassionate and quite likeable film. As is probably evident, it is not without a touch of humor (most notably a laughably bad poet, played by director Maria), and as it progresses playfully and casually toward its end, it arrives at some essential, true-to-life conclusions. "Temps," rather than wallowing in its own despair, gives the impression that, yes, these characters can–with a little adjustment, perhaps–make something meaningful of their lives.

‘Temps’ will screen at the Northampton Film Festival in Northampton, MA, on November 4 and 7. For information regarding this film, or the rest of the festival, visit the Web site at, call 413-586-3471, or email

'Temps' will screen at the Northampton Film Festival in Northampton, MA, on November 4 and 7. For information regarding this film, or the rest of the festival, visit the Web site at, call 413-586-3471, or email