[Fantastic Fest review] ‘THE DEATH OF DICK LONG’ an unforgettable​ ‘Southern Fried’ experience

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James Clay // Film Critic

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG

Rated R, 100 minutes.
Director: Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michael Abbott Jr., Andre Hyland, Virginia Newcomb, Sarah Baker, Roy Wood Jr.

There’s a point in Daniel Scheinert’s (SWISS ARMY MAN) new film, THE DEATH OF DICK LONG, when the inherently disgusting mystery is uncovered that’s either going to shock or delight audiences. Two Alabama yokels (Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland) are caught hilariously making one ill-advised decision after another. But a sincerity runs deep through this southern-fried comedy about the consequences of removing the skeletons from your closet. With humor and an understanding of flawed human beings, Scheinert’s film rises far above its’ premise into becoming a daring and unforgettable experience.

The first hour feels like a scrappy black comedy ripped from the pages of FARGO as two police offers of a small Alabama town attempt to identify the body of a John Doe left at the steps of a local emergency room. As they naively gather clues, Billy Chew’s stranger than fiction script sets the film up with a fascinating perspective on women in law enforcement. There’s a universal history to their dynamics despite the southern setting.

Caught up in the chaos are Zeke (Abbott Jr.), Earl (Hyland), two halfwits who spend their free time tinkering with a Nickelback cover band. Scheinert blends irony with honesty, although it’s hard not to balk at an off-key version of “How You Remind Me,” and Papa Roach concert tickets. Their strong bond is tested after they attempt to cover their tracks and keep Zeke’s wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) in the dark about what happened the night before. Crumbling under pressure Zeke starts to have waves of panic attacks that are harrowing to watch. DICK LONG isn’t a morality tale looking to shame; it’s more about a celebrating self-discovery.

There’s a weight to Abbott and Hyland ’s performances when they embrace the idiocy of their character by finding real human moments. Operating on two different ends of the spectrum Zeke’s scrambling to hide his secrets, while Earl’s more content to skip town. As we spend more time with these guys, Scheinert uses them to talk about what defines traditional masculine archetypes, while reckoning with accepting our own identities.

It’s a wild ride hanging out with this odd-ball pairing of Zeke’s nervous breakdowns with Earl’s overconfidence. There’s a sad puppy dog quality that somehow allows them to be sympathetic to the audience despite their ignorance. When the shocking reveal of what happened to Dick Long comes to light, it hits hard, but the more absurdist elements are intimate. The payoffs are in choices the characters make along the way.

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG is a post-modern take on the sensibilities of loveable idiots. It’s a wonder these two morons have been able to coast this far through life. Revealing too much about what’s going on underneath the surface would be a disservice to Chew’s script and what it is trying to communicate about loving yourself. Coming to terms with the ending may be a tough pill to swallow, but Scheinert’s endearing sensibilities make the journey smooth.

Grade: A-