(Stephen Friedrich, Tara Holt, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Kind, et. Al | R | 1 hr. 34 min. | Momentum Studios)
Summary: When two avant-garde theatrical performers are blacklisted from New York, they must forge their own path elsewhere. And when elsewhere happens to be the tiny town of Fargo, Tucker and Sandrene must teach the locals about what true art means.
Verdict: TANKHOUSE is the sort of movie you can’t look away from, in the best possible way.
In the first fifteen minutes alone, we get a goofy animated sequence over equally goofy narration to establish the artistic passion and prowess of narrator Tucker Charlemagne and his fiancée, Sandrene, odd camera angles when the chaotic live-action kicks in, and a character death.
When Tucker (Stephen Friedrich) and his fellow performers put on an Immersive Theatre Attack that ends up killing their only financier, he and his partner find themselves kicked out of their troupe. Recalling advice from his mentor, Buford (a tragically underused Christopher Lloyd), Tucker tries his best to secure a new artistic home, eventually having to settle for Sandrene’s hometown, Fargo, ND.
From the moment the couple arrive in town, it becomes a movie reliant on sight-gags and theatre puns, which gives the viewer all the reason in the world to love it. In a plot and setting that feels like a marriage between Schitt’s Creek and Waiting For Guffman, Tucker and Sandrene recruit a misfit band of locals to mount a show in order to establish a show run at the Fargo Theater.
But there’s always a conflict, and this one involves a rival company headed by Sandrene’s old high school theatre director. With this development, Tucker and Sandrene must set up shop in the local tankhouse, giving both their company and the movie its name.
The performances alone are brilliant: Friedrich (with a face you’ve probably seen a million times and never knew it) plays Tucker like the total fop he is, always and only dressing like an extra from a Shakespeare production. He and Sandrene speak to one another in flowery language (“my betroth-ed”), but their love feels shallow until it doesn’t, and Friedrich is masterful at playing in this space.
Tara Holt gives Sandrene slightly more depth, capitalizing on the connections she has with the folks in Fargo, particularly Sandrene’s absolute dream of a high school boyfriend, Hank (Alex Esola). Further, Holt plays well the frustrated creativity Sandrene experiences trying to balance this theatrical calling with her as-yet crushed dreams of being a television actress. This aspect makes for particularly well-placed tension in the film’s final act.
The supporting cast members, too, never once slouch. Richard Kind plays Mr. Morten in a way that could only be matched by the likes of the late, great Fred Willard. The members of the Tankhouse troupe all have their turn to shine, but none shine quite as brightly as Sarah Yarkin as the painfully shy Nina.
If you enjoy theatre — or at least watching one-dimensional, pretentious characters get theirs — this is the movie for you. Writer-Director Noam Thomaschoff really knows how to cater to that demographic, embracing the campiness and dropping occasional dialogue deep cuts, like when Tucker suggests that the Fargo Theater could be his “Globe…but less flammable.”
Hilarious. The two companies end up squaring off in a “Modern Major General Off.” The blend of high-stakes plot and low-stakes plot device is perfect.
The pacing is a little slow and the ending may be slightly predictable, but its flawless execution makes it easy enough for the viewer to forgive the simplicity and journey along the scenic route.
Here at the end, a special shout-out must be given to whichever person among the film’s technical crew chose to use Lola Kirke’s “Not Used” over the closing scenes. That was such a cool surprise.
I’m really hoping there is an eventual physical release, because this is one of those films that begs to be watched multiple times.
TANKHOUSE, take a bow while I give a standing ovation.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
TANKHOUSE is available to stream VOD and is playing in select theaters. Check local listings for showtimes.