Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Film Review - Pillsbury Crescent Rolls

...in which I review a 30-second commercial.

Rather than stick with my original plan of reviewing The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas (If you want my quick review: it's boring, lifeless, underacted. Watch Brazil, instead), I've decided to review something, quite a bit shorter than a feature-length film.

So, here it is, my review of the holiday advertisement for Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. No, they're not paying me. I wish they would.

 The Premise

This commercial is a character study of  two brothers who are faced with a dilemma. Tensions flare and wits are matched when a certain object, the last Pillsbury Crescent roll, is contested. How will the character's resolve this situation? through violence? an appeal to reason or emotion? You'll have to watch to find out.

The Plot

The spot opens clearly with white text on a black title card which defines our setting: "The Lange's Holiday Dinner." We see six or seven people seated at a well stocked dining room table. This is an extended familial affair, given that our first actor (we'll call him, Brother #1) refers to his Uncle Ed. Because of this, we are informed that this is no ordinary dinner; the inclusion of the extended family gives this celebration a bit more weight, and will add to the dramatic tension later in the commercial. In addition, Pillsbury made the right choice in referring to a non-specific "Holiday," rather than, say, Christmas. The decorations in the house are perfectly non-denominational, and therefore, completely inclusive to any event considered to be a holiday. Kudos, Pillsbury.

We get to the real, dramatic meat of this piece when Brother #1 asks Uncle Ed to pass the crescent rolls. Upon closer inspection, Brother #2 remarks that the crescent roll--which is nicely and clearly framed in the introductory shot--is "the last one.'' This is the inciting incident of the plot, and introduces the conflict of the piece. What fate is in store for this, the last, crescent roll? The foundation of the conflict is perfectly built, since we, the audience, know that the tension must be resolved in less than twenty seconds.

The clock is ticking.

Let's talk quickly about the characterization of the two brothers. Due to the short length of the film, they must be characterized quickly, but Pillsbury does a good job of this, using clever shortcuts that tell us all we need to know about the two characters. The most obvious piece of characterization is the contrast between the siblings. Brother #1 has disheveled hair and is wearing an unbuttoned shirt, whereas Brother #2 is well groomed and wearing the ultimate in film posh attire: the sweater vest. Yet, despite their differences, the family resemblance is clear. The two brothers are sitting together, which suggests a fairly close bond, and their dialogue hints at a jokingly-adversarial relationship that is very common in film brothers, especially twins.

The relationship between the two brothers is further highlighted in their dialogue and body language as they attempt to resolve the situation. The first solution to the "there is only one crescent roll" situation is suggested by Brother #1, who suggests that the two characters, "split it." Initially agreed upon by Brother #2, the arrangement is called into question when Brother #1, in a show of either a.) backhanded dealing or b.) a lack of spatial awareness, arranges for the roll to be split in an uneven and unfair manner.

While the brothers continue to bicker about the method by which they will split the roll, we are taken to the commercial's second act. Until now, we are only assuming that the crescent roll is an object worth valuing. We are given subtle clues, such as the rarity of the roll (given how large the serving basket was in the first scene, we can assume that this crescent was the last of many), and the eagerness of the two brothers to argue over it, which suggest the value of the roll, but the first scene of the second act resolves any question.

The scene is presented as perhaps a flashback to the creation of the rolls (we will soon see that this is not a flashback at all), however, the fact that the dinner table conversation continues in the background suggests that it may take place within the narrative, and preserves continuity with the previous discussion. We are told quite explicitly by the film makers about the "buttery" and "flaky" roll in question. We are, by this point, completely invested in the conflict, and deeply involved in the future of the last crescent roll.

Let's rejoin the brothers. Act Three. The discussion has continued, by this time it has evolved into an exact analysis of the proportions into which the roll should be split. But then, the big reveal.

Their mother walks in from the kitchen, holding a big basket of Deus ex Machina brand crescent rolls. This reveals that the "flashback" to the crescent's baking was, in fact, another round of rolls being prepared.

The commercial's artistic appeal could have ended here. The conflict could have been resolved by lazy writing and a tacked-on, happy ending. But I'm pleased to tell you, dear readers, that it wasn't.

Rather than cheaply end the conflict with a basket of lazy writing, the brothers press on, going so far as to dismiss their mother's new rolls. Brother #1 offers finally to get a ruler and measure the roll, to ensure fairness (at least his conception of it. It is left unclear as to whether he would be true to his word). They share a glance of brotherly love, and the commercial ends, save for a voice-over.

 The Verdict

Considering that the narrative of this commercial had to be introduced and resolved within the space of 30 seconds, it's remarkable the efficiency and efficacy of the advertisement. Product placement featured heavily in the story, as one might expect, but it didn't intrude on the film's true message. 

This commercial is not about biscuits, it about people. These two characters don't care about the crescent roll, delicious as it is, they care about each other. The entire ad has been crafting a love triangle between the two brothers and the roll, one that is carefully resolved when the characters choose to live by brotherly love, and to not be distracted and dismayed by lust or hunger. It's really a beautiful and efficient piece of film,  especially considering the running time.

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