May 11, 2022 Tankhouse (Movie Review)
From director Noam Tomaschoff (Nerve 2016, Wolf 2017), who also wrote the script alongside Chelsea Frei (The Addams Family 2019, The Moodys series), comes Tankhouse, a film all about small-town underdogs triumphing over big city theatrical elitists. Or trying to, at any rate.
Tucker Charlemagne (Stephen Friedrich: Vice 2018, NCIS series) and his partner Sandrene (Tara Holt: Californication series, Camp X-Ray 2014) are actor/directors who have rubbed New York’s theatrical companies up the wrong way. So wrongly that they end up blackballed from the entire theatre community there. With nothing left to do at home, the two up sticks to Fargo, North Dakota. What can they do there? Start a theatrical, revolution, of course! They just have to overcome the town’s own theatre director Morten (Richard Kind: Argo 2012, Inside Out 2015) to get it moving beyond the metaphorical ‘jungles of Siberia’.
The film is due in theaters on May 13, 2022 via Vertical Entertainment, followed by a DVD and streaming service release soon afterwards. The only question left is whether it is worth the cost. Also, yes, that is the same Fargo that the 1996 film and later TV series is set in. No William H. Macy or Frances McDormand here though. It does have Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1988, The Mandalorian series) as the couple’s kooky acting teacher though!
That describes fits the film too, as it starts with a neat animated sequence detailing the couple’s backstory. It is rather reminiscent of PBS’s Pinkalicious and Peterrific series (seriously). Likewise, the couple are more or less exactly what one would think of when they think ‘avant-garde theatre types’, right down to Tucker’s retro 1920s moustache. They have a vision- a comedically pretentious vision- and the will to pull it off. Plus, if they cannot do it, life will be all the more difficult for them (“Look at us! Is this what our life is gonna be like?!” “What choice do we have? We can’t get real jobs”).
That said, the Fargo setting might not just be a coincidence or a reference. The film’s tone is rather akin to the Coen Brothers’ Comedy works. Curious characters take part in dark events, yet it is delivered in such a way that makes it funny (“When Asher’s nana, and…our only source of funding died!” “After she lived!”). The character names, like Tucker Charlemagne and Buford Slezinger, are as eccentric as Marge ‘Son of a’ Gunderson or Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr.
Then again, the Coens’ lighter films could also have more grounded performances in between the quips. In this film, the acting is consistently rather light-hearted, even when the actors talk about grim situations. In that regard, it feels more like a classic Ealing Comedy, like 1949’s Kind Hearts & Coronets or 1955’s The Ladykillers (which the Coens did a remake of!). It does make for a charming package as the cast do good jobs with their roles, both dramatically with their plot arcs, and comedically with their lines (“Method? Isn’t that what killed that Joker guy?” “That’s how you knew he was doing it correctly”).
The film is not all quips and quirks though. While the drama does not get as heavy as murder (Kind Hearts), attempted murder (Ladykillers), or hostage-taking (The Big Lebowski), there is a healthy amount of relationship drama. It gives Tucker and Sandrene a more human edge, with the latter tempted to leave the former for Hank, an old flame (Alex Esola: Orange is the New Black series, The Scottish Play 2020) because he is a difficult person to be with.
The audience sympathizes with Tucker because, difficult as he is, he does have heart and drive. Yet they can sympathize with Sandrene too as she is her own person with her own dreams, whether they involve him, Hank, or even no one else. As familiar as the ‘misfits take on the professionals’ plot can be, the dramatic spice keeps one side from being all good or the other all bad. Tucker is not an angel with a moustache, nor is Morten a villain without one. They are just two people at odds with their own range of foibles that they both must overcome. The same goes for the ending, which avoids going for good or bad in favor of what is best. It is a conclusion that is a little more common nowadays, though it still manages to be satisfying and fitting.
So, in the end, while Tankhouse’s influences are quite visible, the film can stand on its own feet. The writing is solid both comedically and dramatically, thanks to some great performances all around from the cast. Whether it will be a Coen-contender, is another matter. Yet, for a fun comedy that does quirk right without being annoying, and drama that hits that bittersweet spot without being a downer, Tankhouse is a triumph. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 4 out of 5 stars.