Subversive in a quiet way, The Death of Dick Long starts out conventionally enough, with three rock dudes practising in a garage and making a racket. Eventually the session comes to an end, various females peel off and go to bed and the guys decide to “get weird,” as Dick puts it. Director Daniel Scheinert (who also plays Dick) cuts to three old beer cans hastily being hacked into makeshift pipes.
And cuts again to later that night when Dick’s friends, Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr) and Earl (Andre Hyland), are dumping a severely injured Dick outside the local hospital. They run away.
A mystery – what the hell happened to Dick? This question is answered pretty quickly – blunt force trauma to the head (probably caused by Zeke and Earl’s bumbling attempts to get Dick to the hospital), says the doctor, though the real cause of death appears to be severe rectal haemorrhaging. Things have indeed got “weird”.
From here a case of the dumb and dumber duo of Zeke and Earl trying to clean up all the evidence of that night, like the blood on the back seat of Zeke’s car. A massive problem in itself, since Zeke’s daughter needs to be taken to school. And in another part of town a pair of female cops on the case – Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane), overweight, nearing pension age, walking with a stick, not that bothered. And rookie Officer Dudley (Sarah Baker), keen but not the sharpest.
Scheinert you might know from his day job, making movies as “Daniels” with Daniel Kwan. He made The Death of Dick Long between Swiss Army Man and Everything Everywhere All at Once. Those are high-concept movies mixing jeopardy and humour together in a winning way. Here it’s a case of same/same, the difference being that The Death of Dick Long is not set on a desert island or a multiverse but in a familiar world of Alabama hicks, brewskis, family life, quiche for dinner, and little things causing the biggest problems.
The result is a mix of comedy and warm character study, with the ever-hovering question of what exactly happened to Dick powering things along until about halfway through when we find out just what happened that night.
Dick Long is an apt name for Scheinert’s character, a semi-comedic one, because Dick Long died from a long dick, of a horse, which fatally penetrated him after “horseplay” got out of hand. Yeh.
Bestial sex is not quite what you expect going into a movie as easy going as this and it’s such a violent intrusion into the scenario that all of director Scheinert’s decisions about tone suddenly are thrown into question. He wrestles with this problem for the rest of the movie, eventually abandoning the funny stuff altogether as the cops stumble onto the truth of what went on that evening almost by accident.
What’s strange is that it’s not a story of men having sex with animals, though it is that too, but of two guys trying to cover up after a terrible event, and finding bad luck and sheer stupidity getting in the way, and of two cops who are in most respects just like the guys.
The casting is brilliant. As Zeke and Earl, Michael Abbott Jr and Andre Hyland are precisely the sort of straight-up guys you’d never expect to be involved in this sort of weird stuff. Janelle Cochrane and Sarah Baker are a great double act as the cops. Virginia Newcomb is concern personified as Zeke’s down-the-line wife. Jess Weixler bumbles about as Dick’s increasingly worried wife. Also cutting through, in a small role, is Sunita Mani as Earl’s would-be girlfriend.
Heterosexual guys, guys with wives and girlfriends, a family life in Zeke’s case. I’d say they’re not the sort of perps you’d expect, but on the other hand how often do you come across a movie about a guy dying of animal-related internal bleeding?
For all its off-piste subject matter, this is a very likeable movie full of fuzzy feelgood moments and real compassion for its subjects. It’s fantastically acted, handsomely made and with standout scenes rippling with tension. It’s also, it has to be said, a movie fighting with itself all the way to the finish line and is even worth watching just to witness a director digging himself into a hole and then attempting to dig himself out again. It’s brave, and in many ways.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023