ACIDMAN – Review – We Are Movie Geeks


ACIDMAN – Review

By  | 
Thomas Haden Church in ACIDMAN. Courtesy of Brainstorm Media

Thomas Haden Church gives a striking performance as a reclusive eccentric who is tentatively reconnecting with his grown daughter, in the character-drive indie drama ACIDMAN. After a breakout role in SIDEWAYS and a career of well-drawn character parts in a host of films, it is nice to see Thomas Haden Church get a leading part, albeit in a small indie film like ACIDMAN, in a performance that may be his career best.

“Acidman,” graffiti painted in large orange letters on the side of a trailer deep in the woods, is the sight that greets Maggie (Dianna Agron) when she arrives looking for her father Lloyd (Thomas Haden Church). It is the nickname that local teens have given the solitary, oddball Lloyd, who is the object of rumors and their pranks, like defacing his trailer. Maggie has driven a long way to her father’s remote home to visit her father, whom she has not seen for some time, but while it is clear her visit is a surprise, as her father Lloyd greets her with a mix of warmth and awkwardness, as if she visits from time to time, and clears a space for her to stay in his cluttered spare room. In fact, she has not seen him since he abandoned the family when she was a teen. They are not estranged so much as just unknowns to each other at this point. While the two are awkward with each other, there is an underlying sense of curiosity and a wish to connect.

When Lloyd tries to quietly leave on an errand in the middle of the night with his dog Migo, Maggie insists on coming along. Lloyd’s errand is to a roadside vantage point where he searches for three red lights that appear nightly, lights that he believes are UFOs, aliens visiting the planet, and trying to communicate with him. Maggie takes in this information without blinking, which we later learn is because this has been a long-standing obsession of her father, an one-time brilliant engineer who left that behind to live alone in the woods.

Director/co-writer Alex Lehmann’s ACIDMAN explores this daughter trying to reconnect, in fits and starts,with her father after years apart. Alex Lehmann’s previous films include the Pete Davidson comedy MEET CUTE but also a documentary dealing with autism, ASPERGER’S ARE US, and it is clear he knows how to skillfully handle Lloyd’s unusual nature, although it is never clear if it is autism or illness at work. The hesitant steps of the daughter trying to connect with her eccentric father unfold in a natural way, in a gentle drama that is at times rambling but almost always touching and sometimes funny. While local teens show up to harass the reclusive Lloyd at times, he also demonstrates that he is not antisocial so much as in survival mode against a world he finds overwhelming, when he introduces his daughter to a friend in town, a single mother who is the owner of the local diner, played well by Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, whom tells Maggie of her father’s kindness to her. While it is mostly Maggie who wants to re-establish the relationship, Lloyd also wants to help his daughter with whatever is troubling her, as something clearly is. But Lloyd’s way of doing that recalls her childhood, going fishing or bringing out a sock puppet to talk to her, as if she is still a little girl, scenes that are both sweet and strange.

The focus of this film is more on character and interactions between father and daughter than plot, which is thin. However, sharp dialog often tinged with humor reveals Lloyd’s intelligence and Maggie’s own hidden fears and conflicts, and an unpressured pace allow things to develop in their own way. Lovely photography by John Matysiak, who also shot the indie Western OLD HENRY featuring Tim , adds to the warm ambiance and the appeal of this two-hander.

But mostly the focus is on the actors. Sporting a scruffy beard and a shy demeanor, Church crafts a character unlike any we have seen him as before. He is a solitary man who is intriguing, vulnerable and touching, mixing a gentle charm, even sweetness, with a distance and elusiveness, in a man who might be autistic or mentally ill. While Church’s Lloyd seems limited in his ability to connect with people, we still sense he wants, in his own way, to reach out to his daughter. Thomas Haden Church’s character draws us in with his vulnerability, despite Lloyd’s mysterious nature. Periodically, flashes of deep insights surface from this unusual person. While Church seems to effortlessly create a distinctive character that draws us in, Dianna Agron does not quite match Church’s skillfulness. Her character remains more opaque, offering us less of a way into her inner life or her motivations for seeking out her father after all these years. Agron is at her best when her Maggie is gently dealing with her father’s obsessions, never directly confronting him or challenging him about possible mental illness, which she senses would cause him to shut down, but showing warmth and concern. We get bits of the father-daughter backstory in flashbacks but not every question is answered.

That fact, along with the film’s thin plotting and relaxed pace, might discourage some viewers but for those with patience for this well-crafted character study, the drama has its rewards. With it’s strong performance by Thomas Haden Church and its sensitive exploration of reclusiveness, potential mental illness and family, ACIDMAN has much to offer for the patient, thoughtful viewer.

ACIDMAN opens Friday, March 31, in theaters and on video on demand.

RATING: 3.5 out of 4 stars