Sixteen years ago, Berkeley director Jacob Kornbluth gave us Haiku Tunnel, an autobiographical comedy about comic Joshua Kornbluth’s misadventures as a workplace temp turned perm employed by high-powered San Francisco tax attorney Bob ‘Bob’ Shelby (Warren Keith). Taking its title from an engineering project, Haiku Tunnel remains one of the funniest films of this still young century, its analysis of the absurdities of the gig economy prescient, razor sharp, and endlessly amusing.
Now Kornbluth and Keith return in Jacob Kornbluth’s Love and Taxes (opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, March 17), not so much a sequel as a complimentary feature to its predecessor. Based around Josh’s recent monologue of the same name, the film blends performance footage with recreations of our hero’s efforts to make good with both the Franchise Tax Board and his future wife.
Whereas Haiku Tunnel focused on Josh’s inability to complete a critical work assignment, Love and Taxes follows his almost decade-long struggle with, well, love and taxes. Also returning from Haiku Tunnel (but now in different roles) are Harry Shearer (as Josh’s Hollywood agent), Sarah Overman (as love interest Sarah) and the magnificent Helen Shumaker (as Moe, the tax consultant who gets Josh to sign over his rights to his first film in lieu of payment for her services).
When Josh asks himself the question “how could I find a woman I could love as much as I loved my father?”, the answer, naturally, is ”tax law”. Despite working for virile practitioner of the taxation arts Shelby (who expounds on the wonders of such arcane legal devices as reverse double dummy maneuvers and collapsible corporation rulings), Josh sheepishly admits to his boss that he hasn’t filed a return in seven years.
Bob refers his penitent to Moe, who approaches the issue from a psychoanalytic direction. Plumbing the depths of Josh’s deepest childhood memories, she determines that his problem (or is it a symptom?) stems from his close relationship with his father, a Communist who resolutely refused to fund The Man’s wars.
Convinced Josh has it within himself to make good on his debt to society, Moe declares she won’t charge him any fees until he becomes rich and famous. And therein lies the problem: Josh’s success as a stand-up comedian and fledgling movie star exposes him not only to tax debt but to her exorbitant professional fees.
His bespectacled face still baby smooth, this balding yet stringy-haired schlemiel appears to have aged not a bit since 2001. No-one else can quiver a lip or raise an eyebrow quite as effectively as Kornbluth, his subtle physical comedy (occasionally punctuated by brief outbursts of frantic arm-waving) perfectly complementing his old-school neurotic humor.
The film’s highlight might be his routine about Sacramento’s Franchise Tax Board, in which these most terrifying of bureaucrats are re-imagined as a warm-hearted family of Italian immigrants – or it might be the cameo appearance by Berkeley’s favorite economist Robert Reich, here cast as the former commissioner of the IRS. Either way, this is the funniest film you’ll see all year, and a most worthy successor to its illustrious predecessor.