Eye For Film >> Movies >> Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003) Film Review
Milwaukee is full of snow. Snow can be quite dull to look at. This move is set in Milwaukee. This movie can also be quite dull to look at. Coincidence? We’ll never know.
Deeply indebted to the Coen brothers’ superior style, Milwaukee, Minnesota is a sub-Fargo attempt at creating a twisty black comedy that centres around ‘retarded’ young man Albert (he seems to be autistic, but the film never confirms this diagnosis, preferring to leave him floundering aimlessly on, it hopes, the same idiot-savant turf as Dustin Hoffman’s Rainman. This fails).
Albert (Troy Garity) lives under the thumb of his over-protective mother Edna (Debra Monk), who makes sure he keeps his many winnings from fishing tournaments a secret. For our Albert is not just a small-town yokel. No, he has a semi-mystical ability to ‘hear’ fish and thus to seek them out, catch them and win tens of thousands of dollars. When Edna dies after being ht by a car, Albert is left at the mercy of two disparate con artists desperate to get their hands on his loot.
First up is Jerry James (Randy Quaid), a sleazy salesman who poses as Albert’s long-lost dad – and has a mysterious connection to the family. Only Mr McNally (Bruce Dern), the crotchety store wonder who employed Albert and harboured secret feelings for his mother, knows the truth about Jerry. But will he be able to rescue Albert from the coiffed one’s clutches?
Meantime, fishnet-clad crim on the run Tuey (Allison Folland) and her hypochondriac teenage brother Stan (Hank Harris) have breezed into town. When Tuey gets wind of Albert’s impressive earnings, she poses as a reporter for Time magazine and proceeds to entice him with her feminine wiles into parting with some cash to pay for Stan’s invented chemotherapy.
Cue thefts, breakages, a random transvestite, lots of family revelations and a personal epiphany for Tuey, who uncovers her inner nice person after being inspired by Albert’s sweeter-than-sweetness.
The film veers carelessly between wannabe Coen-style crime caper comedy and an attempt at portraying mental disability, which ends up as a glorification of Albert’s essential goodness. These styles do not co-exist comfortably. The ending, with its saccharine Hollywood message of ‘just be yourself’, left this reviewer slightly nauseated. It fails as a portrait of small-town American life; it fails as a comedy; it fails as a drama.
The film is enlivened by some competent performances – Garity is wholesome and lovable as Albert, although the conceit of using his childlike voiceover to drive the action was a misfire and rather patronising. Both Quaid and Dern are excellent in their character roles and Monk, before her untimely death, gives the controlling Edna a very pleasing roundedness. Folland, however, fails to convince, drawing on 50 years' worth of femme fatale cliché but not managing to make her character anything other than whiny.
This is not a complete disaster of a movie, but its pacing and pitch are widely off the mark, making it difficult to really engage with Albert’s predicament. While it’s not completely horrible, it drags quite painfully and never offers a worthwhile payoff. One to sit through if it comes on the telly on a boring Tuesday night.Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2006