Mattress Men is a small film that deals in high stakes.
For Michael “Mick” Flynn, whose mattress business was close to going under, the creation of the advertising persona “Mattress Mick” is the shot in the arm his enterprise needed.
For Flynn’s part-time employee and friend, Paul Kelly, “Mattress Mick” is more than a marketing gimmick, Mick is proof of Kelly’s hard work and expertise.
“Mattress Mick” is Kelly’s lifeline. This modest viral sensation and its unrealized potential secure his wife’s love, his children’s happiness and his ability to look at himself in the mirror every day.
Early in the film, we’re shown Kelly’s ambition as he attempts to secure an appearance from Stephen Fry at Mick’s Pearse Street shop. Fry tweets about one of Mick’s advertising billboards, and, as a result, “Mattress Mick” begins trending worldwide.
Despite Kelly’s best efforts and a bizarre, put-on American accent, Fry does not go ahead with the appearance. Kelly is devastated. Flynn has a different attitude: he stresses to the camera and to others that he’s a businessman first and foremost, rather than a performer.
Yet, we see that Flynn enjoys this brush with Internet fame. The false start with Stephen Fry lays the groundwork for the expansion of the “Mattress Mick” brand, as well as this documentary’s dramatic movement.
Director Colm Quinn puts the novelty aspect of the film to one side early on. This is a film about Kelly and the desperation he feels at the height of the recession.
We feel it too, as the camera struggles to negotiate his cramped home. The silliness of the film’s opening montage showing some of Mattress Mick’s early YouTube hits quickly gives way to a feeling of suffocation as we learn more about Kelly’s life and times.
Everything is on top of Kelly: debt, familial struggles, the weight of expectations. But most of all, the desire to provide for his young family.
Kelly is determined but flawed. He knows where he wants to be, but often takes shortcuts in getting there. Sticky notes with pithy self-help slogans on them line his computer screen and desk.
“You have quit smoking. You are healthy,” one says, as to the right of the frame, we see Kelly sucking down a cigarette.
It’s these moments of contrast between the levity of the Mattress Mick character and the reality of Michael Flynn and those around him that elevate what could easily be a one-note documentary to something bittersweet, nuanced, and affecting.
There’s intrigue too. Flynn hires a manager to capitalise on his Internet notoriety. This threatens to jeopardize Kelly’s usefulness and vision for the “Back with the Bang” music video that’s to be Mattress Mick’s big break.
Flynn’s new manager is the closest thing the film has to a villain. He wants Kelly off the project and is, at times, one pencil-thin moustache away from classical silent-film-era bad-guy territory.
Kelly is able to prove his worth through hard work, and as the video wraps, Flynn and Kelly appear to have reached a shaky understanding.
Their dynamic is hard to parse at first. Flynn has lost sight of Kelly’s contribution to his ailing business, or perhaps Kelly is overstating his contribution to the viewer.
Either way, Kelly is way down the pecking order at Mattress Mick’s, just above the roving mattress mascot who appears throughout the film talking to no one in particular as he goes about Dublin’s city streets canvassing for Flynn.
In one sequence, Flynn and Kelly drive back from a film shoot together. Kelly talks about trouble with his family. Flynn says nothing to console him.
There’s tension here: Kelly wants desperately to be recognized, not just as a valuable asset to Flynn’s business, but as a friend as well. But Flynn keeps his distance.
Often, we see the two men talking on the phone rather than in person. I got the impression that despite Flynn’s business talk, he couldn’t help but feel for Kelly. When confronted with Kelly’s desperation, Flynn is a soft touch.
Even when their relationship reaches a new low, the tension for the viewer is elevated by the fact that Michael Flynn is not as hard-hearted as he would have us believe.
Later, the two men get into an argument about the music video.
Flynn wants a sequence featuring a close-up shot of some models wiggling their behinds cut from the video. “I’m into to all sorts of shit, but we’re selling mattresses here,” he says.
Kelly begins a half-hearted defence of the footage, before agreeing with Flynn. The audience can, of course, see Flynn’s point of view on this matter, but there’s a sense that he doesn’t grasp Kelly’s investment in Mattress Mick, and, indeed, Michael Flynn.
We see it though, and eventually, through sheer force of will and novelty value, things come good for the two men.
If there’s a problem with Mattress Men it’s that the film has one too many end points.
There are numerous sequences that could have served as a good finale for the film. Time and time again though, we go back to the shop, or to another sequence.
Most of what’s here is well-considered and serves a purpose, but there are many sequences that feel like superfluous diversions.
Even with its brisk 81-minute running time Mattress Men feels long-winded. Colm Quinn’s film is, however, a mostly enjoyable and often touching look at friendship and family.
Mattress Men may not be as hilarious as one might anticipate, but it is far less throwaway than expected too.