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Entries in American (1)



Stars: Jessica Rothe, Bates Wilder, Forrest Weber and Kathy Askew.
Writer/Director: Andrew Kightlinger

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

A film so steeped in such deeply human conditions as grief, addiction and loneliness ought not also be such a sweetly engaging joy, but that is one of the many charms of Andrew Kightlinger’s rural heart-tugger, Tater Tot & Patton. Pairing two damaged humans on an isolated ranch sets in motion a narrative that affords stars Jessica Rothe and Bates Wilder some deep, dark but also delightful moments together.

Further affirmation that she is the most interesting ‘Young Hollywood’-type working today, Happy Death Day starlet Jessica Rothe plays brattish LA twenty-something Andie, who has chosen a sabbatical on her Aunt Tilly’s dustbowl farm over another stint in rehab. Upon arrival, Tilly is absent and Andie finds herself in the charge of her uncle, hulking boozehound Erwin (Bates Wilder); he has little time for the problems of a spoiled princess he hasn’t known since she was a 4 year-old that the family called ‘Tater Tot’.

Two disparate, desperate substance abuse survivors isolated with their inner demons proceeds for much of Act 1 as truth dictates; Tater Tot, forced to learn the ways of country life, and Erwin, ill-prepared for the intrusion a wilful millennial can represent, turn on each other with increasing venom. As their scarred psyches are revealed and the familial bond is repaired, the mismatched characters find themselves on a shared journey of recovery and understanding.

Rothe and Wilder, heartbreaking in what deserves to be a breakthrough lead role, bring a rich dynamic to the close-quarters life that Tater and Erwin are forced into. The intimacy they achieve is a credit to the actors, as well as testament to the inherent honesty of Kightlinger’s scripting (no aspect more so than the grip of alcoholism and the dangers of self-medicating). The director occasionally falls back on some ethereal indie visuals and wispy music to convey the grip of sad memories, but there is so much emotion imbued in the character’s plight such indulgences are not only forgivable, but mostly effective.

The lensing of Peter ‘Per’ Wigand captures the vast brown-tinged grasslands of the South Dakota setting with an artistry that re-asserts the isolation, both physical and psychological, of the protagonists. Top-tier craftsmanship by production designer Chris Canfield and art director Scott Schulte add further authenticity to the ranch interiors, which reflect the waning life force consuming Erwin. Buffs will respond warmly to Erwin’s recollection of his family’s ties to one of the great films made in the region, Kevin Costner’s Oscar-winner Dances with Wolves (1990).