An idealist and a revolutionary gather for a summer barbecue to discuss the state of employment and employee rights, when the richest man in the world stops by to address some accusations in the short film Oh Jeff!
The gig economy has become one of the world’s fastest-growing employment sectors. It is a way of working where the work is assigned on a short-term, job-by-job basis. What is less well known is that some companies use the gig economy to their advantage as it allows them to class workers as self-employed contractors and not employees. This means they don’t have to provide benefits such as sick leave, holiday pay, or a pension to their staff, which helps save money on their costs.
Christopher Rourke’s Oh Jeff! decides to tackle Amazon and this political hot potato head-on by using humour, special effects, and (hidden amongst the dialogue between his characters) actual testimony from the workers involved. It’s summer 2020 at the height of a pandemic and our idealist, played by Karl Strang, has organized a barbecue for him and his friend – the revolutionary Nick Hutchison.
The idealist works for Amazon and this is his only day off for two weeks. The opening 10 minutes focus on a back-and-forth talking heads duologue between the two friends over beers. This scene allows Rourke and his cast to get their political digs and barbs in at the expense of Amazon’s business model and treatment of staff. Both Rourke and Strang are credited as writers and they make plenty of scathing points about working hours, lack of toilet breaks, and wages in the script. Predictably the revolutionary is disgusted at how passive the idealist is with the treatment he receives at work and attempts to convince him to quit. This initial opening scene is hampered in the first few minutes by poor sound design with the background music often overpowering the dialogue, but once the initial problem is overcome the film becomes more enjoyable.
The short really kicks into gear however once Jeff Bezos appears on the screen like the devil, slowly rising from the depths of hell. Bezos appears, ascending some steps through the smoke of our idealist’s barbecue. It’s an inventive entrance that raises a smile particularly because of Nick Hutchison, in his second of four roles he will go on to play in the shorts 34-minute runtime. His Bezos is a deep-voiced, sharp-suited, bald-headed sociopath; there is more than a little Orson Wells about Hutchison’s performance here. This Bezos shows little empathy for his workforce, delivering choreographed and well-honed Amazon press releases from cards as dialogue, and answers to the idealist’s questions and complaints.
Rourke manages to keep the imagery interesting by shooting from different angles, upwards, downwards and using two shots, mid shots, and close-ups. The close-ups are fun as they highlight Hutchison’s bald cap but this minor detail only adds to the short film’s charm. At the halfway point, Oh Jeff! becomes a surrealist fever dream in which Rourke begins to rely on the manic behaviour of Bezos and a hyperactive Hutchison. We see Bezos as a baby meeting his dad and in a flurry of dissolves, colour, and darkness our revolutionary becomes Che Guevara and Bezos meets his end.
Oh Jeff! is a daft-yet-enjoyable piece of work with an energetic performance from Nick Hutchison and, although it doesn’t have much meat on its bones as a short film, I have no doubt it would work beautifully as a Saturday Night Live type sketch. According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos is worth $128.9 Billion dollars and although director Chris Rourke doesn’t quite have that type of budget here what he does have is a sense of humour, a sense of justice, and the ability to make you forget about the world for 30 minutes.