‘Small Engine Repair’ Is an Intense Film About What Lengths a Father Will Go to For His Daughter

I love a good indie film. These kinds of films seem to be able to do what a lot of blockbusters, bigger studio-driven movies aren’t able to do. And that really tells a story. There’s no need for flashy cars, wall-to-wall action, or purposely put product placements. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of comic book movies and I love action films – I get how those kinds of movies tell their own stories. However, every once in a while, we want something more grounded. Something more real.

The Plot of the Story

I had been looking forward to Small Engine Repair since I saw the trailer. Yes, I was incredibly excited for it because I will watch literally anything Jon Bernthal is in. Besides that, I really enjoyed the turn that it seemed this film was going to take at some point during the time it had. And yes, it did take a turn – an unexpected one that really darkened the tone of this story.

Small Engine Repair stars John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, Ciara Bravo, and Spencer House. The central plot of the film revolves around a father and his two best friends (who happen to be childhood friends) who absolutely love the main character Frank’s (Pollono) daughter. To me, I viewed it in a similar light to my mom and her childhood friends. I’m sure many people grew up like I did, where one of your parents has a friend or two that might as well be your second or third mom/dad. So, think of the relationship in that sense when you walk into this film. And it’s completely natural and wholesome – albeit littered with a lot of expletive words, considering the film is leaning into the stereotype of how people from Boston talk.

The Theme is Family

While the movie describes itself as a black comedy drama, I do have to say that there really aren’t very many comedic moments. One could argue that Bernthal and Whigham play more into the comedic relief roles, but the subject matter is over all pretty serious and at times, sullen. After all, you have Frank, who spent some time in prison, trying his best to give his daughter Crystal everything he never had. While Crystal may have a non-traditional father, it’s clear that she loves him. And she loves her pseudo uncles, who absolutely adore her. At times you forget that Crystal is essentially a high schooler, as she takes on a bit of the mother role around her father and his two friends. Which, is understandable because her mother is [for the most part] absent and when she is around, she’s often intoxicated.

The Pacing

The first half of the film is really dedicated to setting the stage. We really get to know these characters, which can often result in a situation that starts out good, but you know it’s teetering on the edge of turning into an emotional disaster. Then, the turn is very serious and dark and really shows how far a father (and mother) are willing to take things when it comes to their daughter.

I will say that there are a few scenes that I wish ran concurrently, as opposed to time-jumping and then adding in small flashbacks to explain how we got to where we are in the story. And whereas most films could have taken a more serious turn at the end, the movie did make a bold decision to go in a little bit of a comedic direction. Which, was a little stark and disjointing at first, until you remember that this movie is supposed to be a dark comedy.

The Characters

The acting was quite good in this movie. Pollono not only played the main character, but he directed the movie and wrote the script based on a play that he also wrote. So, you can see how and why Pollono is so familiar with this character. Frank is a product of his upbringing and is incredibly multi-layered. Pollono really sells his character loving his daughter – played by Bravo.

Pollono is the lead, but it can be argued that Bernthal is the second lead. I know Bravo should probably be considered that, but Bernthal gets a considerable amount of screen time and character development. I would describe Bernthal’s portrayal here as a merge of his roles in The Wolf of Wall Street, Fury, and The Accountant. His character spends most of his time goofing around with Whigham’s Packie – who is truly an enigmatic character in the film. I enjoyed seeing Bernthal with all players in the movie and believe that he, along with everyone; had great chemistry with his co-actors.

Rating: 4/5

Small Engine Repair comes out in theaters, released by Vertical Entertainment; on September 10th. I highly recommend it.

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