Ranch Life (Film Review: “Tater Tot & Patton”)

When a troubled young woman takes refuge on the remote cattle ranch of her estranged uncle, it’s a stark wake up call which will challenge a humanity she never knew she had.

SnapShot Plot

For the record, Tater Tot & Patton, despite the poster credit citing the same production company behind Napoleon Dynamite, should not be compared in any way to the adolescent slacker comedy that is the latter. A family drama with a fair amount of witty fish-out-of-water cultural tropes, this unique indie packs a lot of soul into a simple narrative, managing to paint two distinct character profiles in contrast, and along the way capturing our sympathies almost in spite of ourselves.

Jessica Rothe (La La Land; Gossip Girl) completely embodies her character Andie, a spoiled and entitled city girl from L.A. who (literally) descends on her Uncle Erwin’s struggling cattle ranch in a dusty, remote section of South Dakota for an unexplained, extended ‘visit’. Escaping some vaguely referenced trouble back home, Andie arrives expecting to see her mother’s sister, Aunt Tillie but instead it’s just her prickly, boozing Uncle Erwin, whose idea of a welcome home dinner is to crack open a can of beans and shove them across the table. Andie learns that her Aunt, who has long been battling cancer, is undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and during her absence, Erwin’s drinking has gone off the rails and he has, in effect, gone to seed. Bates Wilder’s no-holds-barred portrayal of Erwin is a confounding, mesmerizing and ultimately heartbreaking picture of a man spiraling out of control, having to contend with a niece he hasn’t seen since she was a toddler, who may as well be from another planet for how different their respective worlds are.

Not surprisingly, Andie (who Erwin addresses as Tater Tot) marches into a battle royale with Erwin, which makes for a comic juxtaposition of wills and egos leading to an impasse, after which they slowly begin to forge some middle ground of begrudging respect, which in turn evolves into a surprisingly deep bond of understanding. Along the way, they are revealed to be more alike than either would dare admit, and in the most unsentimental of terms we are propelled forward on a memorable, illuminating and emotional journey of forgiveness.

Parting Shot

Tater Tot & Patton was written and directed by Andrew Kightlinger, who grew up in South Dakota and wanted the on location shoot to capture the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, imbued with a sense of opportunity but also a sense of belittlement. That the horizon “could give you hope but it could also make you feel small.” His themes of Grief, Loss, Isolation and Addiction were utterly captured, by virtue of the vast exteriors, impromptu bursts of music, and long silences but more intrinsically by the razor-sharp performances of Rothe and Wilder.

Most indie films translate as academically well intentioned, making for an annoying blend of sincerity and self-importance. Not so with Tater Tot & Patton. Underneath the impressive production value is a hidden gem, the kind of movie that broadcasts something obvious – even trivial – and over delivers with another, entirely more moving and profound experience surprising in its urgent call to be heard.

Tater Tot & Patton is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0TXrlpvlHI

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