Review: TONE-DEAF is Devilishly Clever Social Commentary Through a Pop Art and Horror Lens.
If you’ve followed Ricky Bates Jr. thus far, you have an idea of what to expect. Whether it’s Excision, Suburban Gothic or Trash Fire, Bates definitely has a slick and clever wit about him, no matter what the content is. Very much like Tarantino, Bates can bounce around genres with ease, flexing his artistic muscles to create a landscape that still feels very much like him but doesn’t take the viewer out of whatever entry of his filmography they’ve decided to pop on. Tone-Deaf follows suit, a biting and all too real commentary on modern day’s disparate generational gaps and the severing blows that thought process creates.
Olive has been fired from her job by her douchebag misogynist boss, and at the advice of her two fellow millennials, she decides to take a trip out of the city to reset. Still processing her father’s suicide from her childhood, with little help from her spiritual commune based mother, Olive has found little luck with love or life. She rents out the house of Harvey, a baby boomer who believes in getting his hands dirty, pulling yourself by your boot straps and really hates today’s youth. Processing his own grief, Harvey has decided to express his frustrations with much more violent actions.
Tone-Deaf is definitely dark but god damn it, it’s hilarious. Bates has always done a great job at infusing a balanced amount of dialogue that is part teen drama (a la The O.C. or Dawson’s Creek) with deceptively morbid humor. It’s always been a spotlight of his films, all written by him, but it’s clear that he has complete control of his craft here and he’s swinging for the fences. Bold moves to break the fourth wall are made and they pay off in spades. It’s also the best looking film he’s made and it’s in large part to cinematographer Ed Wu, who paints elaborate pictures within the framework. On a dime, he transitions between the sheen of a hipster Los Angeles to the dusty backroads feel of the vacation home, the creeping grime of a shady hotel room or the free love mentality of a commune, Wu translates it with ease. Bates proves that he’s a maestro of dancing between genres, footloose and fancy free with his pirouettes and plies into black comedy, razor sharp social commentary, raw violence and gleeful horror.
A few bit players show up, including a brief return of AnnaLynne McCord, a solid turn of a man child ex by Nelson Franklin and Ray Santiago as her slimy employer, but the bulk of the film really comes down to two roles: Amanda Crew as Olive and Robert Patrick as Harvey. Crew is the picture portrait definition of the L.A.-Brooklyn progressive hipster, from her square framed glasses to her feminist crop tops, and it’s her delivery of these satirical lines delivered with such awkward earnestness that makes Olive such a believable character ripped right out of the here and now. Patrick bleeds machismo and grit, perhaps giving one of his most versatile performances in his long career. The character arc is interesting as is but Patrick’s performance is what carries the film, his stone faced delivery of a lyrically changed version of “This Land Is Your Land” while stoically informing the viewer that he’s remixed the song. He’s vulnerable and delicate while still carrying a foreboding sense of brutality about him, delivering tongue in cheek lines with his square jaw in a way that will have you wondering whether you should shy away in terror or laugh. It’s truly a standout role. Plus, a bonus Ray Wise is always a good time.
Tone-Deaf might not hit with everyone, it’s almost too on the vein of sociopolitical problems we’re facing every day. However, Bates is never heavy handed or preachy with his words or works, instead offering some interesting bisections of these clashing generations. Ultimately, Tone-Deaf is brilliantly crafted, Crew and Patrick need to be applauded, Bates is at an all time high. It’s sleek, smart, visceral, trippy and scary, Tone-Deaf has everything you could ask for.