The Death of Dick Long
by Hope Madden
Director Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) walks an amazing tight rope between hillbilly stereotype and sympathetic character study with his latest, The Death of Dick Long, a crass comedy with deeply human sensibilities.
Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland) and Dick (Scheinert) work on some Nickelback covers for their band, Pink Freud. Band practice out at Zeke’s ends late, long after Zeke’s misses (Virginia Newcomb, excellent) and their daughter (Poppy Cunningham, also excellent) head off to bed.
The fellas get a little weird, things get out of hand and let’s just say Pink Freud won’t be touring.
Yes, we have all witnessed films situated within the world of dive bar cocktail waitresses and their paramours. Tailer parks, mullets, giant prints of tigers, they’re all here. But what makes Dick Long kind of miraculous is how generous Scheinert, writer Billy Chew and the whole cast are with these characters.
Really, generous to a degree unseen in a comedy of this sort—which is to say, the sort of comedy built entirely on the idiocy of its white trash characters.
As Scheinert slowly unearths the details of the mystery, a lesser filmmaker might wallow in inbred, backwoods, banjo pickin’ gags. Not this guy. The more unseemly the subject matter, the more bare the soul. Abbott’s inevitable vulnerability is almost alarmingly heart wrenching given the comedic tone of the film and the actual crime committed.
Likewise, Newcomb mines her character and this situation for something honest enough that you wonder what the hell you would do if you were to find yourself in this situation. Her performance has the texture of a long and comfortable relationship suddenly and irreparably busted.
Hyland’s Earl, on the other hand, is straight up hill jack comic gold, but even this performance sidesteps broad strokes and finds a recognizable, human soul.
There’s not a single performance in the film that isn’t a welcome surprise. And underneath it all, Dick Long reimagines small town masculinity, isolation and loneliness.
Daniel Scheinert follows up on the promise of the crowd favorite madness of Swiss Army Man with a crime caper of a wildly, weirdly different sort. I’m all for his brand of lunacy.