‘Acidman’ Review: Dianna Agron and Thomas Haden Church Deliver a Touching, Tender Two-Hander

Don’t be surprised if the finale of “Acidman” doesn’t summon the cathartic feelings suggested by its premise, wherein an eccentric recluse and his estranged daughter try to heal their familial fracture. Director Alex Lehmann (“Blue Jay,” “Paddleton”) shrewdly chooses not to construct his strife-filled scenarios this way. Rather, those emotions tend to hit later, unfolding long after the credits roll. The film’s poignancy lies in the way these characters authentically grow from their jagged-edged conflicts, enlightening each other on their issues while bridging their cavernous divide. Though not without its flaws, this resonant, resourceful indie drama leaves a gentle imprint on audiences’ souls.

Thirtysomething Maggie (Dianna Agron) is clearly carrying a lot of baggage, both emotional and physical, when she arrives at her father Lloyd’s (Thomas Haden Church) decrepit trailer deep in the Pacific Northwest. She’s traveled thousands of miles to reunite with him, though she’s unsure if he even lives at the address she’s unearthed, let alone if he wants to see her decades after he abandoned their family and his career as an engineer. She’s seeking not only solace regarding the questions swirling inside her head, but also sanctuary from personal woes tied to her marriage.

The ice quickly breaks between the two after Maggie accidentally rams Lloyd with her rental car. Though it’s expectedly awkward at first, she adapts to his offbeat ways, tagging along with him and his canine companion Migo on their nightly treks into the woods to tape what he thinks are UFOs communicating with him. It’s bizarre, but she remains steadfast in her quest to find clarity about Lloyd’s reasons for leaving her in her teen years. He senses a similar tendency brewing in her, and is curious why she’s left her husband and what she’s hoping to gain.

Lehmann and co-writer Chris Dowling examine the tenuous, evolving bond between father and daughter with care, allowing for nuance to power much of the pair’s interpersonal drive. Escalating drama between the two — specifically once Lloyd believes he’s made first contact with the alien beings — is handled efficiently with a smart sense of swift pacing as they move toward self-discovery and understanding. Though it becomes fairly obvious by the midpoint that there’s more than one reason for Maggie’s surprise visit, her frustrations with both her father and herself are well-developed, as are Lloyd’s own issues with himself and his inability to change. Flashbacks spotlighting their happy times in Maggie’s youth (drenched in a blissful glow thanks to John Matysiak’s poetic cinematography) function as direct links to the happy memories they’re forming in the present during their late-night chats and daily searches for supplies.

The filmmakers wisely keep the focus on the characters’ compelling desires: Lloyd is struggling to avoid the mistakes of his past, while Maggie hopes that closing the wounds with her dad will help heal her marriage too. But other creative choices prove distracting, if not downright confusing. Lloyd is prone to zoning out for minutes at a time, and though Maggie offers to take him to the doctor, his ambiguous illness, similar perhaps to catatonia, is played as a quirk when it’s clearly something that could endanger him and others. His impulsive, irrational behavior is also troubling, evidenced in the scene where Lloyd whips out a shotgun on teen townies planning to egg his home mere days after spray-painting the film’s title on it. They’re also a threat that vanishes from the story unresolved.

Agron wholly embodies the broken hurt of her character’s psyche, channeling courage, vulnerability and strength with prowess. Church’s complex, empathetic performance provides heart and humor in equal measure. He’s neither hero nor monster, and his droll delivery is on point. Together, the duo share a natural rapport that sparkles like a diamond — and cuts like one too. Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, who plays a road-stop diner waitress and sounding board for Maggie and Lloyd, is a breath of fresh air. Her all-too-brief screen time is palpably felt, providing a beautiful respite from the mounting tension.

The narrative’s resolution won’t totally satisfy those looking for closure on some of the larger issues. What transpires doesn’t exactly fix their long-running problems, as the filmmakers seemingly imply, but it certainly reads as a hopeful beginning. Yet for any adult children in the audience who carry the weight of parental anxieties and generational trauma, this film dispenses enough heartening, humane sentiments to get by, demonstrating that giving one another grace and patience can unburden troubled spirits.

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