A bowling alley manager rises up to the challenge in Kendall Goldberg’s feature directorial debut, When Jeff Tried to Save the World.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. This film may be set at a bowling alley but it is not a bowling movie. It’s a film about rising up to the challenge of saving the things we love the most.
The World in the film’s title refers to Winky’s World rather than the apocalypse. Although in the film’s case, it could feel that way. The manager of the bowling alley is Jeff (Jon Heder). He’s easily one of the hardest working employees. Nothing easily gets passed him. If you’re a bowling regular, he’ll have your shoes ready the moment you walk in the door. If you’re a fellow employee, Jeff knows everything there is to know about you. Above all, Jeff is the guy that makes the bowling alley run when he’s not tying or breaking his own records on the game he created.
As the bowling alley manager, Jeff reports to Sheila (Candi Milo). When Sheila tells him that her future ex-husband Carl (Jim O’Heir) is selling the place, Jeff starts to do everything he can to change things. The alley has been in Carl’s family since Edgar Winkle bought the place decades before. Hell, Carl took Sheila there on their first date! The first thing Jeff does is start laying the groundwork for Friday Funday in hopes of saving Winky’s World. The place is outdated and with insurance coverage expiring, the future looks very dim.
While all of this is going on, Jeff is surprised to see his sister, Lindy (Anna Konkle), and her roommate, Samantha (Maya Erskine), make an unplanned visit. They do so just days before Samantha’s mother gets re-married. Jeff’s family doesn’t know that he’s working at a bowling alley despite a degree in computer engineering. He lets his mom’s calls go straight to voice mail as if he doesn’t want them to know. Lindy makes a point of making sure we know this information.
To save Winky’s, Jeff is going to require the help of everyone working there, most especially Carl’s nephew, Stanford (Brendan Meyer). Then there’s repairman Frank (Steve Berg) and bartender Raul (Richard Esteras). There’s one moment in the film when Raul opens up and delivers an inspirational monologue right as things look dim.
The visual effects in this film are quite impressive. While the opening titles are impressive in their own right, a nightmarish dream sequence takes things above and beyond. I don’t know what the production budget was but for a film that’s only getting a VOD release, this sequence is right up there with some of the massive blockbusters we see from the studios.
The script, written by Kendall Goldberg and Rachel Borgo, speaks to the idea of change and how we respond to it. Even as Jeff learns his whole routine is being forced to end, he doesn’t give up without a fight. This film was a passion film for Goldberg, who also directs, and this shows through the production value. It shows through the performance of the ensemble cast.
Speaking of the cast, I love the performance that Jon Heder gives in the film even as Jeff’s life is ending as he knows it. Even though Jim O’Heir has a few scenes in the film, this is a guy who always gives 110% no matter what the project is. The friendship between Lindy and Samantha feels natural and that’s because they’re friends in real life.
Led by the performance of Jon Heder, When Jeff Tried to Save the World is inspiring in the ways it teaches us that change is still okay even if we don’t like it.
DIRECTOR: Kendall Goldberg
SCREENWRITERS: Kendall Goldberg, Rachel Borgo
CAST: Jon Heder, Brendan Meyer, Anna Konkle, Maya Erskine, Candi Milo, Steve Berg, with Jim O’Heir