WASHINGTON, February 19, 2017 — Ray Wentworth (Bob Odenkirk) is a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Though he won’t admit it, the greeting card writer – once dubbed the “Bill Shakespeare” of the business – would rather be Orwell Taft (Larry Fessenden), who left the industry to pursue a career as a novelist.
“Novels are for people who can’t edit themselves,” the envious Ray tells his fellow wordsmiths. “Cards are the ultimate challenge.”
But in “Girlfriend’s Day,” a Netflix original film directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, Ray is struggling to express the brief but spot-on sentiments that earned him three consecutive titles as “Card Writer of the Year.”
But, in a career trajectory similar the eponymous hero of the Coen brothers’ “Barton Fink” (1991), Ray has succumbed to writer’s block, the leftover residue, in this case, of a bad divorce. His ex-wife Karen (June Diane Raphael) dumped Ray for Harold Lamb (Andy Richter), creator of the “Optimistic Owl” cartoon character.
The banal nature of Lamb’s character, as Ray relishes telling the owl-like Harold, has inspired knockoff artists around Los Angeles to depict the cartoon bird performing strange and imaginative lewd acts.
Unfortunately, Ray’s continuing inability to summon the romantic (and profitable) greeting card couplets of years past eventually gets him fired from AAAAA Greetings Inc. In a parting act of humiliation, he is forced to surrender his guild card, which his boss rips to pieces before Ray’s shocked eyes.
While drowning his sorrows at a bar frequented by greeting-card insiders (Card-Sharps), Ray runs into the awe-inspiring Orwell Taft.
“How’s the novel coming?” asks Ray.
“My publisher says it has to be 120-pages, minimum.”
Ray asks, “How much you got?”
“Well, I’m up to three,” says Taft.
Taft gulps the last of his beer, “Words.”
Things take a turn toward the strange when Ray is approached in the bar’s restroom by his old boss, who offers to pay him “off the books” for a “little side project.”
“I need you to write a card. A romance card. A great one. Like the ones you used to write. Instead of using words like ‘my love’ or ‘my wife,’ I need you to use the word ‘girlfriend.’”
Ray later discovers that California is holding a contest in connection with a new state holiday – Girlfriend’s Day.
A friend reads Ray a newspaper article saying the holiday is designed “to inject new blood into the failing greeting card industry” and that “the governor is limiting contestants to amateurs and out-of-work professionals.”
While Ray is back at AAAAA Greetings, after-hours of course, he hears a noise downstairs in the print shop. That’s where he finds budding novelist Orwell Taft on the floor, expiring with a knife in his belly.
It’s immediately clear that the contest to find the most romantic greeting card in the Golden State has now become a blood sport, a battle to the death that’s already claimed its first victim.
But greeting card magnate and owner of AAAAA Greetings Inc., Robert Gundy (Stacy Keach), does not find that to be at odds with his business, which he views with cold and unsentimental eyes.
“Holidays are born in blood,” says Gundy.
“Fourth of July: nothing less than a war. Mother’s Day: a woman goes through nine months of excruciating pregnancy and tops it off with a small human awash in her own blood. And what did it take to have Christmas and Easter, the two biggest holidays of them all? It took the greatest man who ever lived to be crucified.”
Never quite clear as to what it really wants to be—a dark comedy or a murder mystery (or both)—“Girlfriend’s Day” is currently streaming on Netflix.