Stanley (Richard Jenkins) has worked the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish in Albion, Michigan for thirty-eight years. In 1971 he made $3.10 an hour. Now, almost four decades later, after never missing a day, he’s making a whopping $13.50. “This wasn’t my dream job when I started,” he says, “but it turned out pretty well for me.”
His time at Oscar’s is coming to a close. He’s given notice at the flophouse where he lives, quit the job and has plans to move to Florida to look after his ailing mother.
Before he hits the road he has to train his replacement, a Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a bright young man on parole after being arrested for defacing a monument.
The two spend a few nights together, with Jevon learning the ropes from Stanley.
“There’s an art to the third shift,” says Stanley. “Once I had to make my own pickles. Once we had a birthday party and we ran out of ketchup. It wasn’t pretty but I did what I had to do.”
The two have little in common, except that they both need this job. For Stanley it has been his whole life. His greatest achievement the creation of “The Stanwich” and he takes pride in the work. Jevon doesn’t care about the rules and regulations but will be sent back to County Jail if he doesn’t keep the job.
“The Last Shift” is a low-key drama that that threatens to break out into a feel-good movie where Stanley and Jevon learn from one another, each propping the other up. It is to director Andrew Cohn’s credit that the saccharine stuff is kept in Oscar’s condiment section and never allowed to bleed into the story.
Jenkins is the embodiment of a man whose life has passed him by. He believed that hard work was enough to build a good life. Trouble is, he’s been exploited by an owner who pays him less than he could make if he quit and went to work at any other fast food chain and now, thirty-eight years later, he has nothing to show for all those nights of working midnight to six. He is stuck in his ways, and his knees and back ache as much as his spirit.
Jevon, who used to write about politics for his school newspaper before being arrested on trumped up charges, is realistic about the situation he and Stanley find themselves in. His awareness irks Stanley, forcing him to confront the failure that has characterized his life.
“The Last Shift” is a wonderfully performed, if somewhat downbeat, portrait of the underbelly of the American Dream. It examines issues of white privilege—“That’s just baloney!” Stanley bellows. “No one ever gave me nothing.”—racial bias and how, despite the best of intentions, sometimes things just don’t work out. A timely treatise on the lives of overlooked people, “The Last Shift” is a tragedy with equal parts soul and heartbreak.