TONE-DEAF **** USA 2019 Dir: Richard Bates Jr. 87 mins
Since his debut with EXCISION (a 2008 short that became a 2012 feature), writer-director Richard Bates Jr. has consistently delivered genre films with a distinctive satirical bite. While providing another role for EXCISION’s wonderful AnnaLynne McCord, TONE-DEAF follows the Bates Jr. trend of gifting great parts for seasoned veterans, including a typically scene-stealing cameo from regular collaborator Ray Wise as the late father of heroine Olive (Amanda Crew), who hangs himself while she performs (badly) the piano at her school recital. Years later, she’s dumped by her cheating boyfriend right before getting fired by her sleazy arsehole boss. With friends suggesting this could be her Eat Pray Love moment, she takes refuge in godawful mind-expanding audio books, drugs bought from a car washer and a weekend break in the middle of nowhere at a house owned by recently widowed, millennial-hating madman Robert Patrick.
The often-hilarious dialogue (“Go fuck a landmine!”) is in line with the filmmaker’s riotously bitchy earlier scripts, and Crew relishes another of his sharp-tongued, resilient heroines. Eating cock-shaped pasta alone and joking about being objectified and tortured by hillbillies, she’s a protagonist worth rooting for, with a backstory gloriously sketched via an acid trip of past exes with enduring grudges and Dad assuring her that he looks away from his higher plain when she’s shagging. Patrick enjoys his finest screen role since the T-1000, barnstorming his ranting monologues about millennials: “brunching bimbos…sunglasses are for the outside and Sundays are for the Lord!” Kim Delaney scores as Olive’s detached mom Crystal, who dealt with her husband’s death by joining a hippie commune and receiving oral pleasure from a succession of fresh-faced lads. The hilarious / tense climax hinges on Olive’s terrible piano playing (Patrick offering the honesty not provided by her loved ones) and calls out the pitiful / terrifying villain for cultural appropriation (“Is that a Tomahawk?”). It doesn’t stint on wince-inducing moments of relatable personal injuries and grim twists of fate but few 21st century movies are this astute and imaginative about the generation gap. Plus, you get Awkwafina’s “My Vag”, which has more quote-worthy lyrics than almost anything: “Yo’ vag, like Granpa’s cabbage”.
Review by Steven West