While you may know Jessica Rothe from “Happy Death Day” and “Happy Death Day 2 U,” those are not the charismatic actress’s only enjoyable performances. After playing on the big screen around the country, “Tater Tot & Patton” is arriving on VOD on May 14 and is well worth checking out.
Rothe plays Andie (sometimes known as “Tater Tot”), a young woman who leaves the city and her parents to live with her Aunt Tilly (Kathy Askew) and Uncle Erwin (Bates Wilder), on a ranch in South Dakota. Upon arrival, she finds that Tilly is in the hospital and Erwin lives life in a drunken stupor.
This then is a clash of cultures dramedy, with Andie learning about both her uncle and life on a ranch, while Erwin has to figure out how to deal with other human beings in close quarters. It is a small story about two very particular, very peculiar, individuals, both of whom are harboring secrets and have the opportunity to grow into better people by simply stopping, seeing the world around them, and paying attention to others.
“Tater Tot & Patton” is successful because while everyone in the audience can guess at a lot of the twists and turns the story takes, Rothe and Wilder are incredibly compelling. They are able to take these two characters who in other hands might be completely irredeemable and wholly annoying, and turn them into exceptionally sympathetic, three dimensional, humans. The actors don’t cause the audience to give Andie and Erwin a pass for their misdeeds, but rather keeps those watching invested in seeing the characters turn their lives around.
A large amount the credit, naturally, also must fall to writer/director Andrew Kightlinger. Not only is he able to help his actors negotiate that fine line between offering a considered portrayal of a damaged character and a thoroughly unlikable one, Kightlinger also utilizes South Dakota to great effect. Although one sees the large, relatively empty, locale through Andie’s eyes initially, with all the scorn she heaps upon the place, Kightlinger takes the audience (and Andie) on a journey to show its beauty and majesty. By the end of “Tater Tot & Patton,” even those who think of themselves as “city people” will want to take a trip to see the place.
Beyond that, Kightlinger provides the movie with a wonderful rhythm. It is a slow, contemplative film, which is not to say that it is burdensome, but rather that it unfolds in the way it wants to rather than feeling compelled to bend to an audience’s whim. When something can be shown without dialogue, it is, and some of the best—most powerful—moments the film offers are the ones without words. It is rarely dull and always thoughtful.
While it may stick to some tried and true storylines rather than searching out that which is new and different, “Tater Tot & Patton” is still a successful endeavor. The superb performances by Rothe and Wilder and emotional filmmaking by Kightlinger cause the viewer to become engrossed in the lives of these people on screen and to pull for them. Even better, it may just want to make us all go out and be nicer to our fellow humans, and that is something truly special.
photo credit: KandamarK