Jody Hill is a filmmaker that seems to have a multitude of common exercises within that of his storytelling, making movies and TV shows about men and their egos blinding their sight. Continually foreshadowing their demise, being a visible signifier of their blight for self-destruction. Ignoring the world around them, choosing to see them as mislead or ignorant for not wishing to match with their ideologies. It’s something you see a lot of as a southern born kid, that old-fashioned mentality is something of a sickness around these parts.
Hill exemplifies this with a southern-rooted, hunter focused film like “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer.” His first film since "Observe," Hill centers a narrative around a father and a son, separated by divorce, at least that’s what the father believes. Buck Ferguson (Josh Brolin) is that father, an infamous TV celebrity, at least on the small, low-brow, hunting channel. He’s a celebrity in the same vein that Ted Nugent is a rockstar, technically a true statement, but one that holds little water when in comparison to someone who actually exhumes those identities.
Nonetheless, “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer” opens with a snippet of highlights from this enigmatic character and his “hit show” “Buck Fever.” He’s someone that pretends to be a tough guy, a great hunter, a master tracker when in all reality he’s far more mediocre than he believes. Forgetting that his identity isn’t manifested by his passion, neglecting others around him, ignoring the effects that his actions have on those surrounding him.
This is what our story centralizes; when we met Jaden (Montana Jordan), it begins to fall apart from the dream-like weekend the father had hoped for, becoming evident that his son doesn’t share the same identity as his dad. He’s a loud-mouth, southern accented, and eccentric kid, who has a vlog, plays guitar and takes parkour lessons. Held back a grade, he continuously feels as if he’s dumber than everyone else. Unable to do anything right because he’s too stupid to figure out what the right thing to do is, something his father seems to be oblivious to. Unable to live up to his dad’s expectations, Jaden (Montana Jordan) begins to feel like this trip is a waste of time, spouting out information that hurts his father more than he realizes. Explaining how he calls his new step-father “dad,” or how his mother (Carrie Coon) and Greg (Scott McNairy) are thinking about getting married.
He’s twelve, right at that age where dad’s start to fear they're losing their children to time, primarily when they are split from the mother. Hunting is what gives Buck (Josh Brolin) identity, and fatherhood suffers because of that, and when he expectedly attempts to force his passion onto his son, it's refuted. No son wants to be like his father, at least not at that age. We seek self-identity, self-recognition, and seeing our fathers controlling every dynamic of our lives is where we begin to drift, later it’s all a bunch of laughs, but until then it can be difficult. It’s a part of life that we all have to endure, as sons and fathers alike, but Hill almost seems to forget that at times.
He chooses to focus more on the irony of hunting, never making clear whether he’s making fun of it, or bragging about its life lessons. John Carcieri and Danny McBride get writing credits as well, working alongside Hill in a way that fails to exemplify what his story is trying to say. Confusing itself between a comedy driven drama and a dramatically driven comedy, “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer” struggles to do what the father of its story does as well, blinding itself from the real message by focusing far more on the hunting than the men holding the guns.
Brolin gets it though, providing a performance that is as charming as it is funny. He manifests a character that feels so magnificently different from his past endeavors, but still seeming as if no one other than Brolin was right for the part. It’s been the summer of Brolin with his role as Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Cable in “Deadpool 2,” and Matt Graver in “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” He’s been exemplary this year, his performance as the Mad Titan is my favorite, but I can’t help but find a charismatic resonance in this depiction of a confused father whose idiocracy matches his pride, a recipe for disaster as he learns later on.
With a father as confused as his son, nothing is learned, but rather hashed out by the screenwriter. A message about a father inability to accept his son, and that the man Buck (Josh Brolin) wants to be is not the man his son needs him to be. It’s a good message, one clouded by satisfying technical craftsmanship and muttered screenwriting that falls flat and never begins to become more than an unempathetic, confusing, and belittling story about a man’s incompetence to be more than a hunter.
At 82 minutes, the film feels thick and lengthy because of its unfocused view. Hill suffers to make this story more than a simple tale with little heart, the trees crowd his sight, never being able to see beyond them. The performances surrounding Brolin are unable to match his, either feeling overdramatic in that Montana Jordan whose southern accent begins to wear thin, or a bit wrongfully written like that of Danny McBride who makes a few too many inappropriate jokes. Even making one that at least the boy is caring about the female's anatomy instead of a mans, I guess that’s the same mentality anyone else from that same upbringing would have.
It all feels so familiar to me, the insensitivity to others, the obliviousness to family, the unconscious behavior to differing ideologies. I deal with it today, probably will tomorrow, it's a common occurrence around these parts, one that seems to argue Hill’s point in these men’s blindness to reality. At least that part of Hill’s writing makes sense.