The following article is a part of Full Circle’s coverage of Fantastic Fest 2019.
The Death of Dick Long. The title invites a guilty snicker that’s not entirely out of step with some of the juvenile humor in the film. Certainly, there are tons of jokes about organs and bodily functions in this film. But beneath them lies a deeply-layered, authentic black comedy that towers above any other comedy released in 2019.
The Death of Dick Long is the brainchild of Daniel Scheinert – one half of the directing duo behind 2016’s magnificent Swiss Army Man, and screenwriter Billy Chew. After band practice, family man Ezekiel “Zeke” Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), his slacker buddy Earl (Andre Hyland), and the titular Dick Long (Scheinert himself) proceed to “get f***ing weird”. What happens isn’t immediately clear. The consequences, however, are extremely apparent. We see a bleeding Dick on the steps of a hospital, as Zeke and Earl flee the scene, hoping for the best.
It’s not a spoiler to say that Dick Long does indeed die. Additionally, it is not shocking to find that Zeke and Earl respond to this with full panic. Consequently, The Death of Dick Long spirals into a mad-cap rush of two men trying their best to hide a brutal accident of (initially) unknown causes. Michael Abbot Jr. is positively magnetic in this movie. Zeke is an apparently well-meaning guy who cannot for the life of him stop lying. His pained physical performance as he realizes he’s is in deep, deep trouble provides the kind of cringe humor you can only normally find on Nathan For You. It’s like watching a train-wreck in slow motion: you cringe at every moment yet can’t for the life of you look away.
A good deal of the film’s humor comes from Zeke’s interactions with Earl. Throughout the film, they try desperately to find their way out of their predicament in which they find themselves. Andre Hyland’s indifferent arrogance bounces well off of the full-on panic of Zeke. It’s positively side-splitting watching these two doofuses try to get out situations like getting blood stains out of white clothes by using the highest option on the washing machine, trying to get rid of their car by “what they did in Pulp Fiction“, etc. Bickering all along the way, of course. Still, The Death of Dick Long refuses to talk down to its leads.
Vitally, the film has genuine affection for its characters and setting. Small town Alabama’s eccentricities are certainly mined for some humor, though. The constant presence of vapes, trucks, and a litany of references (and needle drops) to Nickelback, Papa Roach, and plenty of other “butt rock” bands capture an air of quirky authenticity. The laughter comes from that recognition because the town is a character all by itself. You get sucked in, you enjoy living in it, similar to Fargo.
Believe it or not, the film has more similarities to Fargo than you’d expect. There’s that Coen Bros. trademark of the dimwitted men digging themselves deeper into a hole they created. Furthermore, there is a general atmosphere of the archetypal strange town. There’s even a pair of cops, played by Sarah Baker and Janelle Cochrane, on the trail of the two men.
Where The Death of Dick Long differentiates itself, and for me surpasses, films like Fargo is a reveal. As the walls start closing in on Zeke, he’s forced to reveal what really happened to Dick to his wife, Lydia (Virginia Newcomb). The answer is shocking, preposterous, and bold, bold, bold! There was a notable gasp in my audience when it happened! But more importantly, it introduced a new theme to the film: acceptance.
As The Death of Dick Long continues to get crazier, the story comes into focus as one of a man who feels trapped, unable to be himself. And while I won’t dare spoil how it ends, it’s a bittersweet, unique choice I wouldn’t have expected. Unique is an over-used descriptor, but it’s entirely applicable here.
The Death of Dick Long is a singular experience that certainly borrows influences from elsewhere but makes them their own. It’s a gut-buster of a comedy, almost a tense thriller at moments, and a brilliant character study. Like the recent, similarly Southern-fried The Peanut Butter Falcon, it’s a movie you just want to keep experiencing. It’s not only 2019’s best comedy, but it’s also one of 2019’s best films. – James Preston Poole