(Joey Ally, Bruce Dern, Ian Harding, Meredith Hagner, et. Al | 1hr 47min | NR | Pulse Films)
Overview: With work as a speechwriter becoming scarce, liberal activist Dorothy Goodwyn returns to her hometown in the heart of Texas to seek a new calling — and revenge on her grade school nemesis.
Verdict: The old adage advises against discussing politics with others, but says nothing about making movies about politics. Writer/Director/Lead Actress Joey Ally makes the most of all three of those roles in The Hater, a comedy that misses the mark about as many times as it hits.
All Dorothy Goodwyn (Ally) has ever wanted is to make a difference, going as far back as elementary school, where she lost the student body president election to Brent Hart. Fast forward to mid-young adulthood, and Dorothy has lost exactly none of that original earnestness. She works as a speechwriter for liberal activist political campaigns, and is an environmental activist on the side. When her activism costs her a job, she heads back home. And where is home?
Texas, of course.
She crashes and clashes with her grandfather (stand-out Bruce Dern), as well as with the air of conservatism cultivated in the Deep South. When she discovers that Brent Hart is running on the Republican ticket, she makes up her mind to join in the race and beat him, at last — by also running on the Republican ticket.
The film is unapologetically left in its leanings, and that sorry-not-sorry attitude leads to every single trope that mars the story: Dorothy couches environmentalist lingo in Biblical terms (“save the Garden of Eden”) to appeal to the religious crowd. A chance act of heroism makes Dorothy a favorite with the gun-toters. And that’s the joke, right? That all so-called “Republicans” are 1000 percent in for guns and Jesus?
It lands, but it’s so tired.
Along similar lines, the whole angle of setting out to deceive people by camouflaging some part of yourself — in this case, Dorothy’s true political leanings — and having the truth out at the worst possible moment, in the worst possible way, is also a worn out plot device.
But even for this, the film carries many strengths. While Dorothy is dishonest, Ally brings a palpable honesty to the performance, particularly as Dorothy grapples with unresolved emotions around the death of her father. A certain scene involving home movies must be seen to be truly felt, and it is there that Ally wins the day.
The supporting performances, too, are remarkable. Meredith Hagner shines as Greta, Dorothy’s campaign manager who sags under the weight of societal mores. Ian Harding’s Brent is tragically underexposed, but Harding does a very good job of eliciting sympathy for the film’s antagonist. Bruce Dern’s Grandpa Frank is the hard-nosed, yet ultimately supportive grandfather you wish you had.
Even though the acting is solid all around, the film has one greater strength: The look. It is spectacularly lit, and beautifully shot, which forcefully drives home the sadness that comes with how comparatively little exposure The Hater has gotten.
The bureau in Dorothy Goodwyn’s childhood bedroom boasts photos of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. These men are, of course, paragons of virtue to those on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the woman Dorothy grows into, and that is an interesting point of introspection for the viewer: At which point do we — if ever — evolve in our views, particularly as it relates to matters of civics?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because we’re not supposed to talk about politics. But some folks still do.
And others make honest, if not average movies.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
The Hater is available for streaming via VOD.