Producers: Liz Cardenas, Alex Lehmann, Dianna Agron, Christian Agypt and Sergey Selyanov Director: Alex Lehmann Screenplay: Alex Lehmann and Chris Dowling Cast: Dianna Agron, Thomas Haden Church, Sameerah Luqmann-Harris and Miranda O’Brien Distributor: Brainstorm Media
A movie about trying to connect that itself fails to connect emotionally, Alex Lehmann’s “Acidman” is a father-daughter reconciliation story that wastes the talents of its stars in a strained, simple plot told in a pretty desultory fashion.
That’s especially true of Thomas Haden Church, whose career has featured some highlights (“Sideways,” “Smart People”) but has more often found him in supporting roles of varying quality. Here he takes center stage as Loyd, an engineer who abandoned his family years ago to take refuge in the Oregon forest, where he lives as a recluse in a dilapidated trailer, his sole companion his dog Migo. The local teenagers look on him as zonked-out kook; they drive by occasionally to egg his place, and have scrawled “Acidman” across the front (not quite true, though Loyd does enjoy getting high on weed).
Interrupting his solitude is his estranged daughter Maggie (Dianna Agron), who’s somehow found what she takes to be his address and come a long way to see him. His welcome is far from jovial—as he shows her to a cluttered, uninviting room that he describes as the guest quarters, he asks simply how long she plans to stay.
Loyd’s impassive, vaguely irritated attitude—at times he simply zones out, staring blankly into space—is explained by an obsession with making contact with some distant lights he regularly observes hovering in formation on the horizon. He takes them to be UFOs, and devotes his time using the equipment he’s collected to determine how to communicate with them. If they’ve made the effort to watch us, he argues, it would be rude not to respond.
Maggie is initially taken aback by the mission her father’s embraced, but gradually falls in with it. She also enjoys just hanging out with him, fishing for example, though she resists his halting attempts to offer advice when she tells him that she’s run away from her partner Ben, though they’re still in touch by phone; after all, who is Loyd to suggest how she should deal with her relationship problems?
So “Acidman” offers a tale of multiple attempts to connect. Maggie wants to restore the affectionate link she once had with her dad—something shown in gauzy flashbacks of them on the beach (with the young Maggie played by Miranda O’Brien), while also trying to decide about her future with Ben. And Loyd, in his gruff way, is trying to break through to Maggie and repair their relationship, even as he devotes himself as desperately as Roy Neary did in “Close Encounters” (though without the mashed potatoes) to figuring out how to exchange simple messages with his presumed extraterrestrial visitors.
It’s basically a very intimate two-hander, though Lehmann and co-writer Chris Dowling add some rough edges in Loyd’s angry threats against the teens intruding on his privacy and his tormented reaction when poachers mistake Migo for game. (Canine-lovers should be warned to keep the tissues to hand.) It’s no wonder that Charlie (Sameerah Luqmann-Harris), the waitress at the general store in town, is puzzled when she talks to the pair when they stop by for supplies and a bite to eat; Loyd, after all, might actually be suffering from some undiagnosed mental problem, and Maggie seems to be enabling him rather than intervening.
Nonetheless “Acidman”—actually shot in the Oregon wilderness by cinematographer John Matysiak in rough, hand-held style, with an appropriately no-frills production design by Nathan Pacyna—certainly has some affecting moments, due mostly to Church’s ability to make something out of very little. But Agron proves too limited an actress to match him in enlivening the pedestrian dialogue and meanderingly episodic plot. One waits patiently for the film, edited without much rhythm by Courtney Ware with a musical score by Christopher French to match, to reach a sense of closure between the two characters, but when it comes it’s distinctly underwhelming.
That’s an adjective that applies to the movie as a whole. But at least it gives one the opportunity to watch Church attempting to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a script, however vainly.