Predicated on a plot that details a man with a troubled past finding his place in the world through his job at a warehouse market, one might assume that In the Aisles is yet another slice of insufferable indie quirk, or a sitcom joke-machine a la NBC’s Superstore. But director Thomas Stuber establishes his film as something wholly different, right from its opening moments: the movements of forklifts jut in and out of the various aisles in the morning’s fresh sunlight, creating a surprisingly balletic display of kineticism. And while that might sound eye-rolling on paper, Stuber presents it with such understatement as to skirt any potential sheen of preciousness. That he is able to consistently accomplish this feat throughout feels even more impressive, as Aisles fumbles through the clichéd story beats of unrequited love and unlikely friendships. Franz Rogowski, so great in the recent Transit, brings subtle shadings to a lead character that is written mostly — and intentionally — as blank, while his tentative relationship with Sandra Huller (Toni Erdmann) is both tender and heartfelt thanks to the pair’s wounded chemistry. While Stuber is certainly not the first filmmaker to find the beauty in the seemingly routine and mundane, more than anything, he finds the humanity in an environment — the customer service field — that, ironically, often is defined by the dehumanization of its employees. And in this particular day and age, the effect of that alone is bracing.
Published as part of June 2019’s Before We Vanish.