Credit: Brainstorm Media
Before We Vanish by Emily DuGranrut Featured Film

Acidman — Alex Lehmann

April 7, 2023

Let’s just get this out of the way: the most honest way to quantify Alex Lehmann’s Acidman is as thoroughly mid. The film stars Dianna Agron, alum of the Ryan Murphy school of acting, as Maggie, daughter to Thomas Haden Church’s Loyd. Maggie, seeking some kind of reconnection with her estranged father, treks across the country to visit him in his remote Pacific Northwest trailer. Upon arrival, she finds that her father has come to believe three hovering dots on the horizon are aliens with whom he must communicate. As the two embark on the process of getting to know each other again, she humors his eccentricities, even joining him on his nightly jaunts to talk to the extraterrestrial beings. But when Maggie attempts to break through existing walls with her father and gain some clarity on her abandonment, he seems to dissociate, staring off into the distance until the situation passes. It proceeds this way until the film’s climax, wherein Loyd’s dog is shot by a local hunter while under Maggie’s care. Predictably, this sets off an emotional reckoning in Loyd, and he is finally able to have a meaningful conversation with Maggie, who it turns out has some big news of her own to share. It’s all perfectly fine, and the film’s essential problem is that… it’s all perfectly fine.

The script, which is typically where such small-scale character dramas earn their stripes, is… perfectly fine (okay, retiring that joke). Featured are the predictable daddy issues beats and the requisite heartwarming interactions, mostly of the usual flavor though thankfully without skewing too maudlin (despite a snot-filled monologue from Agron). Lehmann, who co-wrote the film with Chris Dowling, drew inspiration from his own reclusive father, but that intimacy with the material frustratingly never really registers or elevates this script above the standard fare. The performances are similarly sturdy but banal: Church is a tidy fit as the grisled conspiracy theorist, while Agron channels the necessary histrionics (see: snot) demanded of any deserted daughter role, but there isn’t much substantive ground on which either actor is able to find purchase. It’s a problem because, outside of Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris (who plays Charlie, a confidant for both Maggie and Loyd), it’s largely only the two of them on screen, but they don’t so much meaningfully engage with each other as they do throw words into the ether and hope viewers will read meaning into them. Lehmann chooses to shoot most of the film in handheld closeup, which at times works to build a deeper sense of disarray into Maggie and Loyd’s interactions, but quickly begins to feel like an aesthetic crutch, its overuse lessening any effect it otherwise has.

The film’s most interesting element, and the only aspect that inspires anything more than general apathy in the viewer, is its cinematography. Shot in the Rogue Valley of Oregon, DP John Matysiak takes full advantage of the region’s arresting natural landscapes and golden-hour sunsets, using this calm corner of the natural world to imbue an unexpected peace into the proceedings, tempering some of the overdramatics innate to the narrative. But like the use of handheld, these vistas begin to feel somewhat forced in the film’s second half, rendering but another ingredient in the rest of the film’s spoon-fed metaphorizing. By the end of Acidman, all of these mostly middling characteristics coalesce into an ending that viewers will have seen coming since the opening frames, and once again the film frustrates by leading the audience to the precipice of some sort of genuine, earned emotion, without actually getting there. Perhaps this is by design to some degree: it’s a familiar narrative tactic to edge viewers for a film’s duration until they are so desperate for climax that whatever ultimately comes feels like catharsis. But there’s simply too little here that rises above mediocrity for even that bit of audience finessing to fully distract. Viewers craving a dose of feels cinema will likely find Acidman diverting enough, maybe even lightly moving, but anyone looking for more than stimulus for an emotional response is sure to check out long before the end credits roll.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 14.