With a cast consisting of Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, and Will Forte, one would at least expect , the latest outing from Napolean Dynamite director, Jard Hess, to be, at the very least, a worthwhile outing. While Hess has never stepped up to the plate as a director or even proved himself able to direct a competent film, the ensemble alone is filled with such amiable talents that Don Verdean should go down nicely. Unfortunately, the screenplay, which Hess penned along with his wife, is so unbearably unfunny that Don Verdean‘s slim 90-minute runtime felt like an eternity to get through. It is no surprise why this colossal disappointment of a film disappeared after Sundance, only to be dumped this week on VoD, almost a year later.
Don Verdean tells the story of its titular character played by Sam Rockwell, who delivers what is unquestionably his worst performance since establishing himself as a reputable actor. What is inherently terrible about Rockwell’s performance is how emotionally detached he is from Verdean. He is just going through his basic lines that lack any sense of humor, bringing absolutely no emotion to his character. Rockwell comes off as interested in the film as most viewers will find themselves while watching Don Verdean. Clement, who also starred in the Sundance delight, People, Places, Things is clearly trying here, but his character comes across as an attempt at commentary. Hess is so inept as a director that Clement comes off as a racist caricature that lacks any real sense of personality.
Amy Ryan and Will Forte do not deliver necessarily “bad” performances, but Hess never gives them anything to do, outside of their particularly basic character descriptions. McBride often plays an obnoxious character, which is either a good thing or a very, very bad thing. It is good in the case of his HBO series, Eastbound and Down since the screenplay and talent behind the camera are so on point in establishing his unpleasantness as a character and capitalizing on his interactions with others. On the opposite side, there is something like Don Verdean, which does absolutely nothing to make McBride a pleasant experience for the audience. Instead, he just comes across as an insufferable fragment of a character that fails to elevate the film in any way, shape, or form.
The screenplay by the husband and wife duo is the core issue with the overall failure of Don Verdean. It lacks any sense of uniformity in connecting the characters together. None of the lines have any sense of genuine feeling to them. Part of this is due to the fact that the characters never feel like real people to begin with, but this is also because the lines are beyond unrealistic that it is unbelievable for any person to be saying a single one of them. All of the lines of dialogue throughout the duo’s screenplay feels like something that someone committed to paper, as they lack any sense of authenticity.
Ultimately, Don Verdean is something that anyone who is not required to think about it after the fact will think of, especially if catching it on VoD. Hess misses the goal completely at every attempt to stir up any emotional response from his audience. Instead, what Hess has on his hands here is one of the most unfunny experiences to come out of Sundance from the past few years, which is unfortunate considering all of the talent Hess was unavailable to utilize to his advantage.