Tater Tot and Patton

Having to watch and review so many films you can (on occasion) find yourself getting rather cranky and harsh when it comes to reviewing them. You somewhat lose faith in the art form. Then just when you feel like crying, seemingly out of left field comes a film that rights the ship. In this case, it was indie film Tater Tot & Patton. A “small” (in budget) film which hits home with all that film can accomplish when done well. I was totally engaged in the slow paced, largely quiet and personal film that was unfolding before me. One of those rare times where I did not feel time pass.

Millenial Andie (Jessica Rothe – La La Land, Happy Death Day) has gotten herself into trouble of the alcohol variety. While being on the verge of rehab in her native California, she makes a deal with her mother in which she will get out of it if she goes and spends time with her Uncle Erwin (Bates Wilder – Joy, Detroit).

Middle aged Erwin lives on an isolated piece of property in rural South Dakota and is a total loner. Who also drinks too much. He does not really come in contact with many other humans, especially since his partner is in the hospital, other than young ranch hand, Richie (Forrest Weber – Spotlight). This type of quiet is exactly what Andie wants…or so she thinks.

Once she arrives and realizes that she, a L.A. girl, cannot even get a phone signal there and her uncle’s place is rather run down, her idea of this being better than rehab begins to shift. Then comes the fact that all Erwin has to eat and drink is beans and beer. The two, as they don’t have really any other choice, will have to learn how to co-exist and deal with the other’s pain.

From the producer of Napoleon Dynamite and filmed completely in a rather rural area of South Dakota, rather sparse and desolate, but that does not equate the emotions which the film will well up in you. Laughter will be followed by tears. The matching up of two misfits brings plenty to the surface – in them and those of us watching. Not your typical putting ying with yang in a film and getting cheap laughs off their differences before they realize they like each other in the end. It is a rather human film in which two very unlike people try to understand, relate and then help the other through their issues.

Constructing a film which is full of heart (quietly) is a balancing act. Director and screenwriter Andrew Kightlinger (Dust of War) does a great job in making everything feel natural and not forced. It is not a simple thing to bring to the screen emotions that most of us have felt at one time or another without diminishing them or making things boring. Totally accomplished here. A simple story with enough nuance that you stay interested. This plus his excellent eye (of how to frame his shots) make me sure we are going to see plenty more from him for many years to come. The setting is stark yet beautiful. You feel the isolation yet it is not unappealing once you get used to it.

The two actors are amazing here. They play off each other perfectly. Bringing what could have been one note characters to life with plenty of sides to them. Great chemistry. The dynamic weaved between the two is totally believable. Not an unbelievable move is made or word is uttered.

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