Film Review: ‘Amanda & Jack Go Glamping’

Brandon Dickerson's slight, strained comedy toothlessly sends up the world of unplugged hipster retreats.

'Amanda & Jack Go Glamping' Review:
Courtesy of Spiral Films

It was London everywoman Bridget Jones, in her most recent screen outing, who skeptically gave us cinema’s definitive verdict on “glamping,” that irksome term for upmarket camping in a fixed, fashionably furnished tent: “Calling him Gladolf Hitler,” she opined, “wouldn’t suddenly make us forget all the unpleasantness.” It’s not a view that is challenged, nor a quip that is remotely improved upon, in “Amanda & Jack Go Glamping,” a thin, sparkless romantic comedy that takes satirical aim at a host of current hipster-culture targets, before concluding that merely identifying them is droll enough.

Headlined somewhat bemusedly by David Arquette and Amy Acker, as a couple seeking to cure their marital doldrums at a rustic Texan retreat for the quinoa brigade, Brandon Dickerson’s scruffy Austin production has a communal, homemade quality of its own — though you’d gladly trade that for a few more laughs, not to mention a couple of extra character layers. Following limited theatrical exposure, “Amanda & Jack” will most likely set up camp in less glamorous streaming sites.

It’s almost surprising that the aforementioned “Bridget Jones’s Baby” zinger doesn’t appear verbatim in “Amanda & Jack Go Glamping,” so heavy is Dickerson’s nominally original screenplay on winking movie quotes and references: Everything from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to “Gone With the Wind” to (okay, sure) “Ricki and the Flash” gets a direct tip of the hat here, to the point where it’s difficult to recall much of Dickerson’s unappropriated dialogue. So keen is the film to embed itself by association into a particularly catholic cinematic family — as opposed to the sitcom realm strictly suggested by its flat visuals and why-not plotting — that it even namechecks the 1987 Patrick Dempsey vehicle “Can’t Buy Me Love” as “another classic,” a stretch surely as tenuous as any of the narrative’s mounting contrivances and coincidences.

At least it wastes no time in the setup. An audio montage of news reports in the opening frames establishes the ennui of Jack Spencer (Arquette), a once-celebrated author who has slid into critical disrepute and personal depression since his wildly successful debut novel. Broke, unmotivated and sporadically cheered only by his two young daughters, he’s circling the outer borders of Splitsville with his exasperated wife Amanda (Acker) — about whom the script sees fit to tell us nothing whatsoever, beyond her growingly inexplicable attachment to this buzzkill. That extends to arranging a make-or-break, no-kids getaway in Greenacres, an on-trend, off-grid kind of technology-free wellness resort where distractions range from meditation to alpaca-petting to fireside singalongs to Sixpence None the Richer.

Jack, not unreasonably, is unconvinced. The film largely shares his wary perspective, particularly when their initial idyll is rudely disrupted by others: a dippy millennial couple (Nicole Elliott and Daniel Ross Owens) brandishing hybrid dreamcatcher selfie sticks, and Greenacres’ smarmy founder Nate (Adan Canto, finding more comic zip than most in the sparse material), a hemp-wearing, virtue-signaling dreamboat who takes a convenient shine to Amanda just as her husband reaches peak writer-y crankiness.

It’s hard to invest much in the ensuing alpha-male pissing contest over a woman who probably deserves better than either man. Jack’s redemptive wilderness walkabout is equally small potatoes, both dramatically and comically, punctuated by half-sketched, high-quirk encounters with local eccentrics and a hunter-gathering adolescent who professes to be under the equal educational influence of “Socrates, the Boy Scouts and Google.” By the time deus ex machina duties fall unexpectedly to June Squibb, doing a low-rent reprise of her Oscar-nominated salty-old-trooper routine from “Nebraska,” “Amanda & Jack Go Glamping” seems to have exhausted its already slim possibilities with minutes to spare.

Even if its modest relationship dilemma never catches the heart, it’s the simpler, lower-stakes misses in Dickerson’s film that disappoint most. Situating itself in a gentrified yurt-and-yoga cultural scene ripe for a ribbing, “Amanda & Jack” proceeds mostly to fire blanks into the barrel, pointing out the privileged silliness of glamping but never quite nailing what it reveals about these blandly insecure characters. “Looks like your hashtag bulls—t antenna!” Jack yells to a group of passively offending hipsters at his most irate point — whatever that may be, the film could probably use one.

Film Review: ‘Amanda & Jack Go Glamping’

Reviewed online, London, Nov. 8, 2017. (In Austin Film Festival.)

  • Production: An Orion Pictures, Gravitas Ventures presentation of a Spiral Films production. Producers: Cathleen Sutherland, Susan Kirr, Brandon Dickerson. Executive producers: Jeff Carpenter, Steve Williams, Marcy Carpenter, Jenny Williams, Erik Lokkesmoe. CREW: Director, screenplay: Brandon Dickerson. Camera (color): Abraham Martinez. Editor: May Kuckro. Music: B.C. Smith.
  • With: David Arquette, Amy Acker, Adan Canto, Chris Carpenter, Nicole Elliott, Daniel Ross Owens, June Squibb, Richard Robichaux, Gustavo Gomez.