2019 Oak Cliff Film Festival
Greetings again from the darkness. It’s happened before and it’ll likely happen a few more times. A movie ends and I’m at a loss as to how to explain it. What should I tell potential viewers? Is it even possible to “spoil” a movie that is so purposefully downbeat – one that relishes its inability to be analyzed by conventional methods? Filmmaker Rick Alverson has previously knocked us off-kilter with THE COMEDY (2012) and ENTERTAINMENT (2015), and this time seems intent on ensuring our misery.
Tye Sheridan (MUD, 2012) stars as Andy, a functionally catatonic Zamboni driver at the local ice rink where his dad Frederick (a quite grumpy Udo Kier) trains figure skaters. When dad drops dead on the ice, an aimless Andy is taken under the wing of an enigmatic Dr. Wallace “Wally” Fiennes (a toned-down Jeff Goldblum). Wally previously treated Andy’s mother, which isn’t really a good thing since he specializes in lobotomies and electric shock therapy. Andy hits the road with the doctor, carrying his equipment and taking before and after photos with the Polaroid Land Camera. Oh yeah, the setting is 1950’s Pacific Northwest.
Goldblum’s character is based on a real life doctor, and he runs up against an industry that is transitioning to drug treatments, leaving Wally searching for patients. He clearly believes in his treatments, and that leads to Jack, an eccentric whose daughter Susan (Hannah Gross, “Mindhunter”) is in need of Wally’s treatment. Jack is played by French acting veteran Denis Lavant, and his tirades and wild speeches blend French and English to the point that we lose the point – if there ever was one.
Goldblum’s doctor enjoys a drink and the company of women while on the road, and Sheridan’s Andy is so ultra-quiet he often becomes nearly invisible in social settings. If there is a narrative foundation to the film, I do wish Andy’s Ouija board device had spelled it out for me. Instead, the haunting music contrasted with the use of “Home on the Range” left me understanding that the few words spoken carry little meaning, and we are meant to be disrupted by feelings. My hopeless feeling mostly left me asking “why?”, and a bizarre post film Q&A with co-writer Dustin Guy Defa added little context. Actually, that was likely the perfect ending to this film.
watch the trailer: