J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Automatic Hate: Families Do Not Get Anymore Dysfunctional Than This

Think of it as a Northeaster’s version of Cousin Cousine, except more awkward. Make that way, way more awkward. At first, Davis Green is keen to meet the cousins he never knew he had. Eventually, he will learn why the two sides of the family were kept apart—boy, will he ever. Scandal is inevitable and the truth is far from liberating in Justin Lerner’s The Automatic Hate (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

When Alexis Green first introduces herself to the Boston chef as the cousin he never knew he had, he is skeptical to say the least. However, after a little bit of snooping and some agitating questions for his declining grandfather, Davis Green soon discovers an irreparable rift opened up between his father and the uncle he never met. Confused and intrigued, Davis visits Cousin Alexis in the sleepy Upstate New York burg that is home to Uncle Josh’s side of the family.

It turns out Alexis has two sisters and they all like to drink. Suddenly, having siblings seems like a heck of a lot of fun to Green, the only child. However, there is something else going on between him and Alexis. The Green cousins are clearly attracted to each other. Obviously, this could lead to all sorts of problems, especially since Green is already involved with an emotionally fragile ballet dancer. However, the Green family has a few more shoes to drop.

Snobby Floridians say the more north you go, the more south you get. Apparently, this is also true in New York State as well. Of course, Davis Green’s wing of the family hails from Boston, so who knows what sort of bizarre behavior seems completely normal to them? Regardless, Lerner is not shy about regularly upping the provocative ante. Yet, despite the outrageous nature of the revelations, Automatic never comes across as exploitative.

There have been some memorably disastrous dinner parties in cinema history, but Automatic really takes the biscuit. Lerner and co-screenwriter’s O’Brien’s screenplay is razor sharp and ruthlessly cutting. If there is video of their early pitch sessions, it would probably make a terrific DVD extra. However, it is hard to get why anyone would fall for Cousin Alexis, given her conspicuously unstable behavior.

Be that as it is, Joseph Cross is convincingly wide-eyed and freaked-out as Cousin Davis. Deborah Ann Woll is way more forceful than you would expect as the moody prima ballerina. It turns out she is the normal one. However, the real show starts when Richard Schiff and Ricky Jay face off against each other as the estranged brothers. As usual, Ricky Jay can deliver an acerbic line like nobody’s business.

When it is all said and done, anyone who sees Automatic will leave feeling thankful and relieved they are not part of either Green family (and that kind of strong reaction definitely has its legitimacy). Frankly, it is just impressive how far Lerner is willing to push this material. Cinematographer Quyen Tran and the wardrobe department also deserve a lot of credit for the perfectly rendered 1970s era home movies that plays such a pivotal role in the Green’s secret history. If you are not intimidated by the third rail running down the center of the picture, it is really quite compelling. Recommended for patrons of genuinely edgy indies, The Automatic Hate opens this Friday (3/11) at the Laemmle Monica Film Center.

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