Thomas Haden Church most often finds his laughs via characters with a laid back, deadpan view of the world, characters that drive the highly strung folks around him nuts. And there’s comedy gold in the laid back guy finally losing his cool and blowing his fuse, a slow burn turning into a meltdown.
Dianna Agron is similarly low key, thanks to her intimate, close-up-oriented underplaying, a subtlety often seen in folks who mastered their craft on TV.
So it’s easy to believe them as an estranged father and daughter in the dramedy “Acidman,” which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. There’s an “apple/tree” vibe to their underplaying, waiting for the laughs or emotional fireworks to come rather than committing to generate them themselves.
That’s probably why they’re miscast together here. He needs someone more antic to set off sparks with. So does she. Pairing them up makes for an intimate, reflective and generally dull two-hander that only rarely comes to life.
Maggie has fly and drive across the country to “check up on” her father. With good cause. He’s living in a battered, cluttered double-wide in the middle of the woods somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. She drives up and the first thing she notices is that someone has spray-painted “Acidman,” in orange on the side of the house. And not because they’re fans of Japanese indie rock, we guess.
He wasn’t warned she was coming, although his “might’ve tidied up a bit” seems like sarcasm. Her suggestion that she might do the same seems just as sarcastic.
He tinkers with stuff, makes industrial-machinery metal machine synthesizer music, and walks his German short-haired pointer, ‘Migo.
Whatever he used to be, he’s now a not-quite-recluse, settling in “a good place to be left along.” At least the waitress at the village diner (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) knows him. Other locals, especially the younger ones, see him as a town character, thus the graffiti on his house.
And when she invites herself along for a dad-and-his-dog late night wander, she starts to figure him out.
“It’s a good night to go searching,” is all he’ll say. But when they reach a high bluff and he points out “red orbs” of light in the distance,” his obsession, his “brain smash” becomes clear. Those lights?
“Think interplanetary…You can say it.”
He’s certain he’s seeing and communicating with UFOs, who he figures are just doing some sort of “interplanetary drive-by.”
So now we know his secret and can mull over what she might do in response to it. But what about hers? She’s got to be her for some other reason, because, you know, it’s a movie. That’s the way such scripts play out.
Agron and Church have some moments, played in a father-daughter shorthand that works.
“I think fathers are supposed to give a daughter advice” is quietly but abruptly cut off at the knees. Her announced reasons for the visit are dismissed just as curtly.
But as likable as these two are as players, their interactions pretty much flatline. The possibilities between the characters are too limited and the surprises mostly unsurprising. There’s just too little going on and very little to invest in as a viewer.
Director and co-writer Alex Lehmann, part of that Duplass Brothers talking-talking mumblecore movie industrial complex, has made a couple of features (“Paddleton,” “Blue Jay”) for Netflix that few have seen. Here’s another.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Thomas Haden Church, Dianna Agron and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris.
Credits: Directed by Alex Lehmann, scripted by Chris Dowling and Alex Lehmann. A Signal A release seen for The Tribeca Film Festival
Running time: 1:26