September 30, 2019

VIFF 2019 | 'The Death of Dick Long' Goes Down South

"Y'all mother f*ckers wanna get weird?"
VIFF 2019—Indie filmmaker Daniel Scheinert, one-half of the "Daniels" directing duo behind Swiss Army Man, has ventured out on his own. In his deep southern-fried take on the "bumbling criminals" genre (think Fargo with rednecks), the blisteringly funny The Death of Dick Long combines both the very well-worn "one bad night" and "idiots in over their heads" frameworks to inventively twist them into a genre-bending crime comedy with plenty of surprises.

Starring Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland as good ol' boys Zeke and Earl, the Dick of the title's best friends and bandmates (in "Pink Freud"), things get weird very quickly. Zeke and Earl scramble in the aftermath of Dick's death to cover up their possible involvement after a weeknight of very hard partying gone array.

Screenwriter Billy Chew's script is deliciously precise in its joke-telling and situational comedic setups. There's a turn halfway through where the dramatic tension of the grisly circumstances of Dick's death become more clear and Scheinert wisely plays it heartbreakingly straight.

Scheinert and Chew, college friends and native Alabamans, lovingly satirize redneck conceptions and southern stereotypes slyly while also acknowledging the realities of the culture with a surreal sense of small-town authenticity. Their characters feel so unbelievably genuine and vividly realized despite their sheer ridiculousness. Hyland's mastery of vaping alone should be endlessly rewarded.

Daniel Scheinert | The Death of Dick Long | VIFF 2019

Other town characters from Zeke's wife (Virginia Newcomb) to the elderly sheriff (Janelle Cochrane) and her deputy (Sarah Baker) all feel like real people with lives outside of the events of the film. The whole thing is so impressively fleshed-out with everyone having complete interior motivations despite appearing on the surface as stock side characters that usually only show up to be mocked in other lesser films.

What adds to the authenticity is the unironic enjoyment and celebration of everyday contemporary deep south culture including some high energy music from the likes of Creed, Disturbed, P.O.D., Staind, and an A-plus needle drop of a Nickelback track. Never has this music been more lovingly and uproariously used to build context to a story and or celebrate characters who love the music.

The Death of Dick Long's high-class treatment of trashy material is top-notch. Scheinert's pitch-black crime comedy is so much sheerly realized sophisticated fun. It defies expectations of its backwoods setting with mostly earnest performances that stand out despite the depravity of its subjects.

The Death of Dick Long screened at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Altered States (ALT) stream at the Rio Theatre.


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