Death of Dick Long, The

Rating:

HORSE SENSE

Main Cast: Michael Abbott, Jr., Virginia Newcomb

Director: Daniel Scheinert

I had Joseph, my manager send a quick message to the producers of Die Hard: The Christmas Musical for the Whole Family letting them know I would be pleased to join the production in the role of Holly McClane.  Unfortunately, they had already signed Vera Charles for the part.  I must confess I was a wee bit disappointed in the decision but I am a trouper and know that not every job is booked.  I do wish them well with Miss Charles.  I just have one word of caution for the production;  they’d better keep her away from open flames – she’s about thirty five percent alcohol at this point.  This does mean my holiday season remains open for a new and exciting project.  Something will turn up in the pile of scripts and offers that arrive constantly at Chateau Maine.  It just won’t be Die Hard or the truly tacky musical adaptation of ‘Night, Mother I read through this morning.  They had the nerve to ask me to consider the part of the mother when everyone knows, at my professionally youthful age of thirty-nine I am so much more appropriate for the daughter.  Besides, the jukebox score of Steely Dan hits would not give me a chance to show off my coloratura.

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My practice garb is (obviously) the envy of the industry.

I had been slacking off some in my practice sessions and it’s important that I keep my voice supple and my limbs exercised so I’m ready to go when the right part comes my way so I got together Ms. Laurie, my accompanist, Madame Mimi, my vocal coach, and Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist for a three hour practice session and tap jam this afternoon.  Normy had left behind the score to an unfinished rap musical version of Babbitt so we got that out and used it as a basis for a series of exercises of increasing difficulty which eventually ended with me doing freestyle rap about early 20th century social mores while tapping up and down the grand staircase of Casa Maine.  It was exhausting, but great fun and, after we were done, we decided to celebrate with dinner and a film.  Off we went to Republique for moules frites, two very good bottles of Beaujolais, and a good gossip over the latest doings at Warner Brothers.

When it came time to choose a film, we decided to avoid the usual Hollywood fare and went off to a little independent cinema of my acquaintance where we viewed Daniel Scheinert’s new film The Death of Dick Long.  Scheinert, whose last film was the rather odd, but not altogether terrible Swiss Army Man, has, this time out, created a quirky little dramedy of doings in rural Alabama.  Knowing a little bit about the people and doings of the area for reasons that are entirely too complicated to get into here, I decided this might be just the thing for our girl’s night out so we bought a round of vodka stingers at the bar (with sidecars) and a large popcorn and settled in.  I expected to be entertained and mildly amused at best and was pleased to find out that I was totally engrossed by The Death of Dick Long from the beginning.

Dick Long of the title (played by Scheinert himself), has a not very good garage band known as Pink Freud together with his two bumbling pals, Zeke (Michael Abbot Jr.) and Earle (Andre Hyland).  One night, after Zeke’s patient wife (Virginia Newcomb) and daughter (Poppy Cunningham) go up to bed, the three decide to abandon band practice for a night of drinking, drugging, fireworks, and riotous behavior under the credits sequence.  Suddenly, it’s the wee hours of the morning.  Dick is in the back seat bleeding to death (we know not why) and his friends decide the best thing to do is dump him at the local ER in the parking lot, but not before lifting his ID so he is admitted and dies as a John Doe.  The local sheriff (Janelle Cochran) and her eager apprentice (Sarah Baker) are called in to investigate the mysterious hemorrhaging corpse and, as Zeke and Earle make more and more bone headed moves to try and cover up whatever it was that happened, the cops try to put the pieces together and figure out if a murder has indeed been committed.  The big reveal as to what happened comes about two thirds of the way through.  I shan’t say what it is but, despite being grotesque and weirdly funny, it’s also in keeping with what we know about these characters and their social strata.

Billy Chew’s script is pitch perfect for rural Alabama dialect and ways of expressing and the talented crew of actors Scheinert has assembled for The Death of Dick Long don’t so much portray a lovable group of misfits as inhabit them.  The film succeeds in spades on the strength of its ensemble, all of whom find the human beings trapped in rural poverty with events spiraling out of their control.  The film reminds me very much of some of the early work of the Coen brothers – the relatively simple rural setting harkens back to Blood Simple and the dogged determination of female police officers simply trying to understand the case they’ve been thrust into is of course Fargo.  Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland have great chemistry and timing together as the two dim bulbs stuck in the middle of the whole affair.  Hyland, in particular, with his insouciant deadpan whether he’s trying to destroy a car by sinking it in a mud puddle or fending off the over sexed advances of his neighbor (Sunita Mani) is a delight.  The script also doesn’t feel a need to explain too much; it simply lets its characters be.  One character is revealed to be a lesbian, but it’s not part of the plot. Sheriff Spenser drinks too much but it has no bearing on anything other than giving us something to ponder as we see her methodically go about her job.

The art departments and location managers have perfectly captured the world of rural north central Alabama – its dilapidated mobile homes, convenience stores, small towns of vacant storefronts – all are lovingly photographed.  I only picked up one local detail that I thought was wrong.  At one point, our bumbling heroes are drinking Trim Tab brewery beers.  These guys would drink Pabst or Miller, maybe Coors, not local microbrewery.  But anyone outside of the greater Birmingham area won’t recognize the cans for what they are. If that’s the biggest flaw I can detect, then it’s a pretty good film.

The cinematography (Ashley Connor) and editing (Paul Rogers) in The Death of Dick Long have that American indie feel and aesthetic that settled in during the 90s with the heyday of Miramax and Landmark Theaters and Scheinert hasn’t yet become enough of an auteur to put his own unique stamp on his projects from a visual point of view.  I have hopes though.  Here’s hoping that someone in Hollywood gives him an interesting story with real humans, rather than comic book characters, and he may be on his way to a major career.  I’ll certainly be seeking out his next efforts.

Toy horses. Blood stained romper. Crotch fireworks. Missing wallet. Painting in pickup bed. Gratuitous piano recital. Kitchen table colloquies. Cane use. Cheap motel.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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