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'Janice Beard: 45 WPM'

'Janice Beard' taps into the typing pool

Friday, June 14, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The secretaries at Kendon Motors are a tight group who do almost everything together -- eating lunch, taking salsa classes, ordering clothing from catalogs. When one of them gets her hair cut, queen bee Julia (Patsy Kensit) sternly informs them it's normal to "consult with the whole typing pool before making a hairstyle decision."

 
 
'Janice Beard:
45 WPM'

RATING: Unrated but PG-13 in nature for a couple of offensive words

STARRING: Eileen Walsh, Rhys Ifans, Patsy Kensit

DIRECTOR: Clare Kilner

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

Her admonishment is aimed at Janice Beard, alternately known as the "new girl" and "the temp" in the comedy "Janice Beard: 45 WPM" for words per minute.

Janice (Eileen Walsh) left her home in Scotland and found work in London so she could finance medical treatment for her agoraphobic mother (Sandra Voe). Janice's father died in childbirth -- he keeled over in the delivery room -- and her mother hasn't been out of the house since.

It was only through the help of a childhood friend that Janice got the Kendon Motors job. She was fired from her last temp position for listening to language tapes and daydreaming, which she does well. She has an overactive imagination, which gets her through the tough times when her landlord demands the rent for her teeny apartment facing a brick wall.

Kendon is preparing for the launch of a new, revolutionary car that will make or break the company. Unbeknownst to Janice, an industrial spy is in her midst and she becomes his unwitting dupe. As the launch nears, Janice falls for the mail boy (Rhys Ifans), her mother is forced to confront her phobias and the car unveiling is put in nerve-wracking jeopardy.

"Janice Beard," directed and co-written by Clare Kilner and opening today at the Denis Theater, was filmed in 1999 but is just making its way to this country. Ifans, for instance, has made 15 TV or theatrical projects since this.

Although Eileen Walsh is no Audrey Tatou, the wide-eyed wonder from "Amelie," she is an appealing everywoman with a good heart and a smile that shows a little too much gum. Since her mother won't even have a telephone in her rowhouse, Janice chronicles her life on video and ships the tapes to her housebound mum.

The not-so-secret lives of office workers have been chronicled before, in movies as diverse as "Desk Set," "Clockwatchers" and "Office Space," and nailed in the "Seinfeld" episodes set at the J. Peterman catalog company. Writers Kilner and Ben Hopkins do a cursory comic job, balancing the tedium of fixing the boss's tea and the tacit acceptance of the office's sexist divide with Janice's family troubles.

But even at a trim 81 minutes, this movie feels padded. Anyone who spent an afternoon in my office would be able to pick up enough material for another 10 or 20 minutes. The writers weave together all the loose strands by the end, even if they do strain believability and leave the motivation for the sabotage unexplained.

And 45 wpm? Excellent typists can do that with one hand.

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