Dir/Wri: Shane Atkinson | Cast: John Magaro, Steve Zahn, Dylan Baker, Galadriel Stineman, Matthew Del Negro, Brad Leland, Bob Clendenin, Megan Stevenson, Darcy Shean | US Comedy thriller, 110′
LaRoy is a quietly triumphant Coen-esque comedy thriller centring on a case of mistaken identity in small-town Texas.
John Magaro plays Ray, a biddable good-looking guy living out a humdrum existence in the Texas town of LaRoy where he would do anything to make his beauty queen wife Stacy-Lynn happy. But his thoughts turn to suicide on discovering she is cheating on him with his brother Junior (Matthew Del Negro), who helps him run the family hardware business.
A chance meeting with Skip (Steve Zahn) makes Ray reconsider his options. Skip, a dangerous fantasist, takes himself far too seriously and has a random recall of reality. Posing as a private eye he acts and dresses ‘more like Howdy Doody’. But the well-meaning Ray falls in with Skip’s plan to investigate a series of small time crooks in the hope that he can raise money for Stacy-Lyn’s dream of owning a beauty salon.
Together the two men vaguely foster unrealised dreams of validating their empty lives and even making themselves local heroes. And this leads to a doomed partnership in crime with their awkward social interactions giving the film its most drole moments, after Ray is mistaken for a hit-man.
A series of showcase support characters are well-formed and believable: Dylan Baker is the sinister standout, the real hit-man Harry (and he’s not ‘here to help’); Galadriel Stineman is Angie, Skip’s feisty ex; Adam Leland (from Friday Night Lights) is a misogynist used-car salesman called LeDoux but his wife Midge (Darcy Sheen) gets the best line: in fact women certainly have the upper hand in this Texas town.
So an understated gem of a debut from Shane Atkinson, the deadpan humour is subtle and incidental but vital to the film’s success, with memorable lines and characters that feel real and resonate long after the tragic ending. You may want to see it again for this reason, I certainly did, and will. There are certainly echoes of the Coen brothers, but Atkinson has forged his own path and seems like a filmmaker who has set out on a worthwhile journey. Let’s hope we see more of him. MT
NOW SCREENING AT VIENNALE 2023