Few films that have landed in my radar have been as bold or surreal as Michael M. Bilandic’s second feature, Jobe’z World. During its quick, 67-minute runtime, its strange, roving protagonist, Jobe (played with apt disaffectedness by Jason Grisell), and the even stranger group of characters with whom he interacts struck a chord.
Although Jobe’z World is certainly a character-driven film, it operates way more on mood and atmosphere, exhibited via the drone-like sound design and dark, after-hours cinematography. Yet Bilandic efficiently moves the story along on his micro budget, and part of that has to do with his strong cast. Through his job as a drug courier, Jobe deals with a fisherman (played by Owen Kline) with dreams of becoming a standup comedian; a molly-popping survivalist (Stephen Payne); and a high-brow, Wellesian actor named Royce David Leslie (Theodore Bouloukos—a standout among the cast) who is revered for his lengthy list of cinematic performances and talents. The plot, however, is sparse. Less forgiving moviegoers won’t have much patience for the extended dialogue or the characters’ one-dimensionality. But these elements contribute to Bilandic’s darkly comic, fever dream-like concoction, which, in the end, makes for a compelling watch.
As the title suggests, we’re put in Jobe’s world, privy to his inner ruminations on the universe, his daily frustrations, and whatever he’s feeling at the moment. The film begins with a cosmic light show narrated in Jobe’s pithy banter. As nebulas bounce across the screen, Jobe muses, “Man, look at all this bonkers shit.” An aging, thirtysomething slacker who threw away his shot at being a professional roller skater in his youth thanks to excessive partying, Jobe works as a drug courier for a mysterious company. (Footnote: One casualty of Bilandic’s low budget is the unfortunate look of the company—basically a bare room with a desk—but it somehow all ties into the film’s overall surrealist tone.)
During a 24-hour time span, Jobe roller-skates across Manhattan to meet various clients, to whom Jobe remarks that he’s in a hurry because he needs to pick up his mom from John F. Kennedy airport that night. But an urgent call from the company commands Jobe to make a late-night delivery to Jobe’s favorite actor of all time. The drug: medical-grade propofol, which is “worse than what killed Michael Jackson and Prince put together.”
Jobe books it to Leslie’s apartment, where he and the famed thespian seemingly hit it off, so much so that Jobe excitedly hands Leslie a copy of his hand-drawn comic zine about an intergalactic raver DJ named Cosmic Steven. The humble, unassuming Leslie philosophizes about his career, bemoaning how he’d love to be remembered for a role that cements his legacy. Afterward, Jobe books it to JFK to retrieve his mother, and in the taxi ride to her hotel is where Jobe learns the devastating news: Leslie died from a drug overdose, and in his last hours alive, he broadcast a live video of his drug-induced freakout, name-dropping Jobe and the Cosmic Steven comic. Essentially an accessory to Leslie’s death, Jobe spends the night hiding from all manner of cops and paparazzi by traversing the streets.
Jobe’z World may rely more on atmosphere than plot, but at least the atmosphere is captured well. Cinematographer Sean Price Williams, acclaimed for his documentary- and narrative-feature work (and who also has a small role onscreen), matches the frenetic energy of Jobe’s roller-skating scenes with an equally frenetic camera. Likewise, he funnels various ambient light sources from each scene to create a slightly saturated, colorful look. Because of the constantly dim lighting, viewers never know what time it is, adding to the dreamlike vibe.
I found a lot to like in the disparate characters, each of whom displayed a presence and humor all their own. Grisell, a noted indie actor and producer in his own right, plays Jobe with a weird flamboyance fitting for his aging-hipster character, but his timid demeanor and downcast eyes suggest a real vulnerability. In his New Yorker review of this film, Richard Brody called Bouloukos a contender for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Leslie, and I’m inclined to agree; Bouloukos has a knack for standing out without chewing the scenery.
Jobe’z World may not benefit from wide distribution because of its out-there nature and low-budget look, so chances to see it may be slim until it lands on a streaming platform. Maybe there, a cult status will develop, paving the way for more from Bilandic’s imagination. What could he dream up next?
Jobe’z World was written and directed by Michael M. Bilandic; and stars Jason Grisell, Theodore Bouloukos, Owen Kline and Stephen Payne.