In a small town such as this film’s in Alabama, news travels pretty fast – including the most recent town scandal, the death of Dick Long. After a wild night of partying with his friends, Dick’s body turns up at the local hospital without even something to identify him. To create a film that is funny, sincere, witty and energising is a tough gig, and to do that without the humour turning puerile is even harder. THE DEATH OF DICK LONG harnesses all of those elements, even ensuring there are an appropriate amount of phallus-related jokes inserted.
The start of the film is birthed in a dingy, yet quaint basement in the southern USA, as we interrupt the band practice of some long-term pals: Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr), Earl (Andre Hyland), and Dick (Daniel Scheinert) – a couple of middle-aged dads just grooving out with a few harmless beers and guitars. The night then descends into a display of drunken fireworks and speeding down the highway into the blackened oblivion. Zeke and Earl are moronic at the best of times and attempt to navigate themselves out of the chaos of their pal’s accidental fatality. The film then descends into a DUMB AND DUMBER style cat-and-mouse chase between the cops and Zeke and Earl. The cops themselves, Sherrif Spencer (Janelle Cochrane) and Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker) bumble along in their small hometown, both exceptionally quirky and in possession of a mundane likability.
“In many ways, it’s not just about this promiscuous dirty little secret, it’s about the dirty little secrets we all keep from our friends, our family and even ourselves.”
Bang-smack into the middle of the film is an almighty twist, which in essence is outrageously ridiculous. The humour is already screw-driven through the centre of the film – from Zeke’s daughter making savagely witty comments in front of the police, to Earl’s gonky awkwardness around the local girl he fancies – and you’ll find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at the best of times. In many ways, it’s not just about this promiscuous dirty little secret, it’s about the dirty little secrets we all keep from our friends, our family and even ourselves. The film scours the underbelly of men’s unaccountability for their actions in a film where it feels like anything could be around the next corner.
One of the most exceptional performance comes from Virginia Newcomb as Zeke’s wife, Lydia. A slow realisation of the situation creeps up on her like thick slicks of tar and roots her to the spot in an almost horror-like manner. The intensely complex array of emotions that she must now deal with would be incomprehensible for most, but she runs through the motions of anger, disbelief, and bafflement in a gripping fashion. She forces the hand of the viewer to share the anxiety with her, which is a masterful move creating a captivating blend of sincerity and humour in the second half of the film.
“THE DEATH OF DICK LONG embraces and furthers the absurdity of the situation, with a pause to feel sombre at moments and wholeheartedly cheer on the utter genius of the film.”
Scheinert’s gritty, dark humour from SWISS ARMY MAN is mirrored within THE DEATH OF DICK LONG, and truly brings writer Billy Chew’s words to life in a remarkable manner. The film is quite stripped back in terms of locations, from the warm comforts of a family home to the familiar clinical neon light of sticky-floored bars set the scene. It welcomes the audience into the room, and then much like FARGO, the settings take the backseat as the storyline is asserted and put front and centre.
THE DEATH OF DICK LONG embraces and furthers the absurdity of the situation, with a pause to feel sombre at moments and wholeheartedly cheer on the utter genius of the film. The film is thoroughly enjoyable, with a unique style and a refreshing take on a film set in the southern states of America.