Review: ‘Dadetown’

Fake documentary about an American small town in transition is a one-of-a-kind pic that should click on fest circuit and in specialty situations where moviegoers are used to taking chances on unknown quantities. This will require extra-special handling to obtain any sort of commercial return.

Fake documentary about an American small town in transition is a one-of-a-kind pic that should click on fest circuit and in specialty situations where moviegoers are used to taking chances on unknown quantities. This will require extra-special handling to obtain any sort of commercial return.

Unlike “This Is Spinal Tap,” there are no jokes or comedy set pieces in “Dadetown.” Instead, it purports to be a serious docu about the fictional Dadetown, N. Y., where some filmmakers went to lense a short segment for public TV and stayed on when they discovered an all-American village on the verge of a revolution.

It starts like a sociological tract, as we meet the townies, most of whom work at the local metal plant. During World War II the company manufactured planes, but now it’s reduced to turning out paper clips and staples, and it’s having trouble keeping up with the foreign competition.

The town is further shocked by the arrival of a high-tech communications firm that chooses to locate its corporate headquarters there. This leads to inevitable conflicts between the educated yuppies looking to transform Dadetown for its own good and the townies who resent changes like the opening of a cappuccino bar.

The moral center of the storm is the beloved Bill Parsons (Bill Garrison), a lifelong resident and long-time town board member who tries to bridge the gap between the townies and the newcomers. When he unexpectedly dies, the film takes a dark turn, with layoffs at the metal plant followed by vandalism and increasing anger at the newcomers, who have nothing to do with the situation.

Irony abounds, from the noblesse oblige arrogance of the yuppies who assume they are saving the town, to the notion, expressed late in the film, that the townies are simply reenacting a passage that occurred when their forebears pushed out the native Indian population.

Pic holds the attention, with helmer Russ Hexter (who co-wrote the script with John Housley) slowly ratcheting up the tension. Cast of unknowns bring the various characters to vivid life, which may be the problem. This plays so realistically that viewers may not get the satire, or they may be angered when they find out that the story isn’t true. Figuring out how to reveal the fictional nature of the film to viewers in advance will be the key to marketing.

Tech credits are modest, playing along with the notion of a docu done on the fly, but the novel use of locations (largely Hammondsport, N. Y.) and crisp sound are effective, allowing viewers to focus on the narrative rather than the production budget.

Dadetown

Production

A KHXT presentation in association with the Elizabeth G. Heston Foundation. Produced by Jim Carden. Directed by Russ Hexter. Screenplay, Hexter, John Housley.

Crew

Camera (color), Bill Gorman; editor, David Kirkman; music, Tom Carden; production design, Edward J. Vigeant; art direction, Dan Blanchard; sound, Alicia Quigley. Reviewed on videocassette, Sept. 2, 1995. (In Boston Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Bill Parsons - Bill Garrison
Tony Pitino - David Phelps
Tom Nickenback - Jim Pryor
Bill Bowers - Jonathan Shafer
Dan Barlitz - Stephen Beals
Joanna Barlitz - Valerie Gilbert
Susan Chambers - Frankie Earle

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