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Small Town Wisconsin


‘…a warm-hearted story of everyday life that’s easy to recommend for those who like films about people rather than portals and vortexes…’

‘How bad can your life be, you’re white, you got a dick?’ asks Alicia (Kristen Johnson) of the protagonist of Neils Muller’s comedy/drama; she’s got a point. We hear a lot about white male privilege, but there’s plenty of white men out there who don’t feel that they benefit from any such thing. Wayne (David Sullivan) is just such a man; he struggles to hold down a job as a mechanic, drinks too much, is generally someone who might be termed a ‘goof-off’ and is also father to adoring son Tyler (Cooper J Friedman).

Family tension quickly gives way to drama; Wayne is on a sticky wicket with his ex, and feels the need to guzzle two six packs of beer a day, although being a sophisticated drunk, there’s also ‘brandy and wine-coolers’ to factor in. That combination of censorious attention and uncontrolled drinking leads Wayne to accidentally cause a kitchen oil inferno which Tyler unwisely attempts to put out with water. This near miss means that Wayne loses custody over his son, who faces a new school away from his influence in big city Milwaukee. Horrified at the consequences of his actions, Wayne resolves to create a symbolic victory and give Tyler the best introduction to the city imaginable…

Why should we be interested in yet another deadbeat dad? Well, let’s start with Alexander Payne, who executive produces here; those who enjoyed films like Sideways and Election will respond to the self-deceiving characters features here. Small Town Wisconsin offers similar pleasures to Payne’s popular style; Wayne is a frustrating, stubborn, idealistic and hopelessly inept character that will inevitably breaks our hearts. But he’s well matched with the sparky, rarely sullen Tyler, and also with his fellow mechanic Chuck (a wonderfully drawn portrait from Bill Heck) who reluctantly agrees to chaperone father and son on their three day trip to Milwaukee to take in a ball game. Johnson also gives an emotionally fluid performance as sister Alicia who provides a bolt-hole when Wayne’s plans predictably come crashing down.

‘You’re going to see what an ocean looks like’ Wayne promises Tyler, but instead Wayne ends up providing a glimpse into the depths of white male failure; Jason Naczek’s script keeps us guessing where the final coup de grace for Wayne’s ambitions will come from, but when it arrives, it’s every bit as agonising as might have been imagined. But Small Town Wisconsin is more than just a cringe comedy; the characters all turn out to have more to offer than on first appearance, and some kind of redemption is possible for Wayne after all. Small Town Wisconsin is the kind of indie that used to make a trip to the cinema worthwhile; well-acted, thoughtful, careful in its description of the interplay of a shattered family unit, it’s a warm-hearted story of everyday life that’s easy to recommend for those who like films about people rather than portals and vortexes.

Thanks to Quiver Distribution for access. Out in US cinemas June 3 and available on DIGITAL and ON DEMAND, June 10th 2022.


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    • People who drink generally are keen to point fingers, in anger or in jest. I’m trying to be above all that…

          • Excellent. Let the Finger Pointing Competition begin!
            * tweeeet *

            Ref calls you offsides for pointing with a pinky. You’re red-carded.

            I win by default. Hurray!!!!

                • Ok, I’ll let you know when I’m ready. Psychic Grandma told me you might try and jump the gun…

                  • TWEEEEEEET *

                    fraternizing with the dead.
                    Unprofessional conduct.

                    and I win yet AGAIN!!!! Man, I am totally killing the Finger Pointing Competition today….

                    • Sorry, was talking to Alex, let me know five minutes before you propose we start, promise to give you my full attention!

                    • tweeeeeeeeeeeeeet *

                      Fraternizing with Canadians
                      All contact with Canada and its citizens banned by the FPA (Finger Pointing Association) per Reg 45.A.80.z

                      And that makes 5 wins for me. I get the Gold Medal!

                      and it’s all thanks to this movie.
                      * sheds tear *

                    • You need to give me five minutes so that I’m ready. Just give me a clear signal.

                    • Too late. I already won all the prizes and got the Gold.
                      You can try again tomorrow though if one of the pictures is all “Finger Pointy”….

                    • Ok, we’ll if you’re not going to start the competition off, then your challenge is mull and void, and I will remain undefeated champion of finger pointing. FacT!

                    • We have the right to Garsa Fwipp as and when we see fit. Like haggis, it’s in our constitution. How’s yours going?

    • He does, but after some frantic googlemapping, I’m thinking that this reference is to the three day trip to Milwaukee, which is near the famous ocean Lake Ontario. They do make the point in the film that it’s not a great ocean. But your point is salient, no doubt.

      • Huh? Milwaukee is next to Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, no where near Lake Ontario which is in New York State. The distance between Milwaukee and Ontario is about 500 miles (788 km).

        • Sorry, it was a hurried look at googlemaps, Lake Michigan. Which is not an ocean, obviously. I’ve been to Chicago, there’s a large body of water, it’s the one you might see if you drove to Milwaukee…I think.

  1. Payne sounds the hook here. Would he have made a better job? Cringe comedy rarely works unless it’s laff-out-loud Jim Carrey stuff. I like the sound of this though. Feel good movies that don’t work are an interesting sub-genre and losers are often more interesting than winners.

    • Payne is the hook, since it’s a lot easier to suggest the vibe of the film in comparison to Sideways. It’s a film of its own merits, but it’s very much in the same wheelhouse as Payne’s work. Hope it gets a UK release, it’s a neat, effective film.

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