The Ordinaries

Sophie Linnebaum’s feature film debut, THE ORDINARIES, depicts a fantasy world where cinematic tropes take physical form and where Main Characters rule over oppressed Supporting Characters and Outtakes. With some considered production design evocative of BRAZIL’s dystopia, Linnenbaum crafts a story that very nearly collapses under its own concept but manages to say something about class and emotional expression.

The film’s main character, Paula Feinmann (Fine Sendel), is a Supporting Character. Her father was a Main Character, and to follow in his footsteps she studies at the Main Character School, where she learns how to emote, do panicked screaming, and produce background music that matches her feelings. But when she goes looking for a flashback of her father at the Institute, she discovers that the script for her film isn’t what she thought it was. With the help of miscast housemaid Hilde (Henning Peker), she journeys to the Outtakes District to discover the truth about her role.

THE ORDINARIES presents a dystopian world divided between Main Characters, Supporting Characters, Background Extras, and Outtakes. Main Characters sing and dance through musical numbers in the centre of the frame, while Supporting Characters have limited dialogue and very little character depth. The main role of Paula’s mum (Jule Böwe), for example, is to be worried when her daughter comes home too late. Outtakes are entirely broken with poorly-synched laugh tracks, clipped editing, or an inability to speak at all.

It’s a reasonably high-concept premise, but the film manages not to lose itself in its convolutions. In its metacommentary on cinematic structure, THE ORDINARIES is similar to other postmodern metafiction films like Spike Jonze’s ADAPTATION and Charlie Kaufman’s SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. But it pushes a little further in its experimentation with fourth-wall breaking to more closely resemble Davey Wreden’s video games The Stanley Parable and The Beginner’s Guide, which completely dismantle the form of a video game while interrogating the tropes behind games. The metacommentary becomes the entire object.

Although the stratification of the film’s world is a fairly blunt metaphor for real-life social hierarchies, THE ORDINARIES does manage to say something interesting about class and who is allowed emotional expression. Only Main Characters are allowed to emote, while Outtakes are thought to be unable to express emotion at all. Paula literally gives voice to the voiceless during her journey as she discovers how Outtakes actually live and feel.

THE ORDINARIES is an enjoyable piece of work, even if the pacing starts to feel off towards the third act. The film continues adding elements even at a late stage and some of the conceits start to feel a little confused. Towards the end, when a character demands that the end credits start rolling, you almost feel satisfied, and it would have been extremely bold to actually end the film on that joke. The actual finale feels a little too neat for some of the larger, more revolutionary ideas that the film wants to explore.