Little town in Wisconsin’Wayne Stobierski, native of his absent father and part-time fat monkey, may not be the biggest drunk in cinema. After all, the competition is fierce: there is Dudley Moore arthurby Jimmy Stewart Harveyby Billy Bob Thornton Bad SantaMickey Rourke’s Bukowski in bar pillarby Bette Davis (Whatever happened to) Baby Janea Norman Maines couple in various stars are born. Nick and Nora Charles were almost never without a drink in hand in the Thin man comedies. The greats Jack Lemmon and Ray Milland in Wine and Rose Days and The lost weekend, respectively. If Wayne Stobierski isn’t destined for the levels of notoriety attributed to these infamous movie drunks, it’s not for lack of trying.
For most – frankly, almost all – of small town in Wisconsin, Wayne (David Sullivan) has a beer stuck in his hand. And like almost anyone with even a little more emotional maturity than they can let on, that’s a problem. It’s a problem at work, where he’s slow to complete repairs. It’s a problem in his various hangouts, where he’s often cut off, and one particular night ends with a game of bowling and a 16-pounder through his own rear window. It’s a problem almost everywhere, given his short fuse and quick fists, however hollow his drunken threats may be. And that’s a real deal when it comes to the one thing in life he could love as much as a Box of 16 ounces of Point Special: the son he shares with his ex-wife Deidra (Tanya Fischer).
Deidra, having been married to Wayne, knows only too well how infinitely cyclical and genetically inherited alcoholism can be. Wayne’s father suffered from the disease, and Wayne’s sister, Alicia (Kristen Johnston), moved to Milwaukee; she has managed to free herself from the cycle of dead-end jobs, persistent poverty and endless small-town living. Wayne is caught up in this cycle, and even if he can’t see it, Deidra needs to know there’s a good chance he’ll pass the same life on to their son. So she and her new husband Stu (David Sapiro) plan to move to Phoenix, where they can raise young Tyler (Cooper J. Friedman) with a better life.
To make a move like that, however, will require sole custody. And with a history of public drunkenness, no permanent job, no savings and no credit, Wayne finds himself without a case before the detention judge. All he can offer Tyler is one last great weekend together, their last, before Tyler moves with his mother and husband to Arizona. Ever the clearest thinker, Wayne is convinced that a weekend in Milwaukee at a tony hotel and with front row seats to the Brewers game will at least keep him in his son’s memory forever. To swing it, Wayne will have to snag his collection of baseball cards and pull off a growing series of little white lies (and a few big ones).
Yes, it is rather an imperfect plan.
And no, it’s not okay.
Director Niels Mueller and screenwriter Jason Naczek are relying heavily on Sullivan’s performance to keep viewers interested in this cockamamie shot, and for the most part, Sullivan is up to the task. Son Wayne clearly loves his son, if that’s not enough to change his ways for him yet. He’ll pull out a good line or two or entertain with a drunken moron. But despite all the film’s good intentions, Wayne’s drunkenness is hard to bear. To be honest, it’s not funny (the film is billed as a comedy-drama). It’s sad. If you’ve seen the costs of alcoholism up close, it could be traumatic. Wayne is a perpetual teenager who can’t handle money, can’t handle relationships, can’t handle life. To use common parlance, “coming of age” is simply not one of his skills.
Drinking is. Although Wayne isn’t good at it either, despite all the practice he gets. More than two nights find themselves shirtless on a sofa, needing a dog hair (or three), a gourmet mouthwash on the way to work or on a date. Even a drinking buddy like Chuck (Bill Heck), who’s enlisted by Deidre as Wayne and Tyler’s weekend chaperone in Milwaukee, can do the math: Wayne’s drinking costs way more than the hundreds of dollars. spent on the monthly bar.
Keeping an audience attentive when the protagonist is drunk on screen for 104 of his 105 minutes is no easy task. Luckily, Mueller and Naczek give young Friedman as Tyler plenty of time to interact with Wayne, and if the fear of worrying can be given up, Wayne will jeopardize Tyler’s well-being with a drunken jester. or another, the two actors share an affable and sincere chemistry as a failed part-time father and quiet child, always hoping for the best with optimism.
When the trio finally arrives in Milwaukee from their loosely defined “up north” home, foiled plans lead to an ad hoc reunion with Wayne’s sister, Alicia, and son Matt (Braden Andersen). Alicia and Matt are non-judgmental and welcoming, and along with Wayne, Chuck and Tyler suggest that the family can find each other in all sorts of unpredictable and much-needed ways. It takes a village, as the saying goes, or at least, in Wayne’s case, a few villagers. He needs more education than little Tyler. By the end of the film, there’s little hope that Wayne will get what he needs, though it’s likely never going to be custody.
Filmed in Wisconsin in and around Milwaukee, Mukwonago, Palmyra and East Troy, with multiple bratwurst references (Unsinger!), The Brewers (citing “Stormin’” Gorman Thomas as the greatest center fielder of all time , a stretch, even for a loyal Brewers fan), and beer, small town in Wisconsin is a touching love letter to the east of the state and its German-Dutch heritage. Nicholas Larson-Johnson’s score might sound a little generic, but hits the right notes at the right times, and Warner Wilder’s alt-country/roots-rock adds raw authenticity.
Its regionality may limit its appeal beyond the Great Lakes Rust Belt, but small town in Wisconsin will surely appeal to anyone familiar with any part of the preceding paragraph. It’s an independent film with a small budget and limited scope but a big heart. Nowadays, small town in Wisconsin was acclaimed at smaller film festivals like Buffalo and Beloit, winning over twenty awards. It will open exclusively at Milwaukee Film’s Oriental Theater in Milwaukee before its wide release in theaters and on digital platforms starting June 10.