Director: Colm Quinn Featuring: Michael Flynn, Paul Kelly Running Time: 84 minutes
With his distinctive features, alliterative name and unwavering commitment to selling mattresses, ‘Mattress Mick’ has become a true Dublin character in the last few years. But what secrets does Mick keep under the mattress, or rather, what was behind the unlikely transformation of an aging bed salesman into a social media star? Mattress Men answers that question and more, looking beyond the quirky character of cheaply made Youtube videos into deeper issues of financial crisis and the issues that come from men tying their pride to their work.
It is oft said of documentaries that they only really find their story during the shooting and that could certainly be the case with Mattress Men. The film is nominally about how Michael Flynn reinvented himself into ‘Mattress Mick’ to save his ailing business during the recession, but finds a more interesting subject in his associate Paul Kelly. In addition to selling mattresses, Paul is the brains behind the Mattress Mick viral videos, setting up a green screen, directing Mick or Brian Traynor in his living Mattress costume, spending hours editing. Paul has been hit hard by austerity, in debt, struggling to support his family and stuck in a small inner-city flat that he hates. When they decide to make the most ambitious Mattress Mick video yet in an effort to go viral, Paul pushes himself harder than ever, hoping primarily to get more hours from Mick, but also to get some recognition.
Though the austerity angle is interesting on its own and an important part of the film’s message (the inclusion of a scene where Paul and his kids watch a Water Charges protest is no thematic accident), Mattress Men wisely avoids getting too bogged down in the specifics of its subjects fimancial woes. The pride of both Mick and Paul is the most engaging thing here. Mick’s slightly inflated ego reveals itself in his dismissals of Paul and others, while Paul rankles at being sidelined, pushes more and more to take charge of making the video and brings himself to tears talking about a man’s need to work. Despite Paul’s pressing need for money, the film manages to intertwine that and the need for some acknowledgement from Mick that he’s doing a good job.
The film deftly establishes the conflict between Paul’s ambitions and Mick’s pragmatism as a businessman. With Paul being such a relateable figure, its easy to understand how quickly he gets caught up in making Mattress Mick’s music video. Off-handedly showing the positive slogans Paul keeps around his desk and cutting regularly to the ever-optimistic Brian in his mattress costume, director Colm Quinn makes it easy for the audience to think positively too, and equate the success of the music video with success for Paul in general. Once the video’s done, everything will be alright, even as Paul continues to have struggles at home and to clash with his boss. It’s tunnel vision that suits the streamlined narrative of a documentary. Good thing there is light at the end of that tunnel.
Mattress Men manages to look at some heavy issues, without ever losing the levity that makes both itself and its subjects so charming. It helps that even as Paul and Mick clash in the editing room, a promotor attempts to undermine Paul, or Paul makes an error in judgement that could cost him his job altogether, the music video that everything hinges on is fun and ridiculous. Mattress Men is a feel-good film that will put a spring in your step.(4 / 5)