Small Engine Repair
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: John Pollono
Writer: John Pollono
Cast: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House
Screened at: Critics’ link, WY, 8/31/21
Opens: September 10th, 2021
There is a bond between friends that can last years. In some cases, relationships come and go, and a distance that is created either physically or emotionally can change the way a dynamic looks and functions as time goes on. Those who consider themselves close may travel different paths and even not see each other for large chunks of time, but when they’re together again, it’s as if nothing has changed. The lengths lifelong friends will go to in order to protect each other can be limitless, and boundaries may be tested when circumstances become serious, asking more than any of them ever expected.
Frank (John Pollono) is released from prison and reunites with his young daughter, Crystal, who has been watched over in his absence by Terrance (Jon Bernthal) and Packie (Shea Whigham). As Crystal (Ciara Bravo) grows up, Terrance and Packie care for her just as much as Frank does. When Frank regresses to his old violent behavior during a drunken bar fight, the three friends experience a rough patch that leads to them not talking. After Crystal’s unpredictable mother Karen (Jordana Spiro) comes back into town, Frank invites Terrance and Packie over along with his drug dealer (Spencer House) to make an unexpected and highly questionable request.
This film takes place in Manchester, New Hampshire, which is immediately introduced as the kind of place that people want to leave yet don’t usually manage to succeed in doing. The script is based on the play by Pollono, who also serves as director and star. The Boston accents are thick, as is the Red Sox love, and that energy drives much of the film, built on the camaraderie that being from a particular place creates and the similar viewpoints that can bring and keep people together.
The core unit that serves as this film’s main characters is definitely appealing. Pollono is the one that will likely be least familiar to audiences, though this is inarguably his story, one based in part on his own experiences and guided by his vision given his behind-the-camera involvement. Bernthal and Whigham have both established themselves as reliable TV actors, taking on comic book and period roles that require the same kind of investment as their characters do here. Bravo, a standout from Cherry earlier this year, is endearing and lively as someone from another generation who truly feels like “one of the guys.”
The establishment of this film and the personalities involved is an extremely interesting and involving process, highlighting the way they interact and the deep connection they share. What’s sufficiently less convincing is the ultimate direction the film takes once the details of the aforementioned request become clear. Theoretically, having gotten to know the characters should make the ensuing journey worth traveling, regardless of where it leads, but the final third of this film definitely does not match what leads up to it.
There’s an element of watching any film where audiences project their expectations and desires onto the characters they see on screen, hoping that they will make the right and sensible choices that reflect thinking through the likely consequences of those actions. To presume that will have any effect is foolish, and in a sense, not being given a satisfying conclusion is an indication that a film does in fact represent a trip to a place that doesn’t feel familiar and may have considerable value. This film may then best be regarded as containing top-tier characters who happen to exist in a relatively average and unfulfilling narrative.
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B-