Drive The Line

Tater Tot & Patton
Stars: Jessica Rothe, Bates Wilder, Forest Weber, Paula Weeldreyer and David Hanson
Director/Scriptwriter: Andrew Kightlinger
Composer: Garth Stevenson
Cinematographer: Peter “Per” Wigand
Kandamark/Mynnalon Pictures
Rating: PG 13 for language and themed material
Running Length: 91 Minutes 

The title of this film, “Tater Tot & Patton” will have you think it is about the fast food industry or a family film.  It is not fast food, but it is about family, dysfunctional, but family, none the less.  Director/writer Andrew Kightlinger gives the audience a view of two troubled people of different generations, who try to deal with loss, and are failing. When they meet, they are opposites. The film has two main characters, Uncle Erwin (Bates Wilder) and Tater Tot (Andie) who is played by Jessica Rothe ("La La Land.").  Against the broad horizon of the South Dakota prairie, their stories play out for the audience to see and hear and contemplate.  

Erwin has a small farm with no air conditioning and no cell phone signals. He lives on canned beans and beer with a raw egg or two in the mix. Along comes Andie, his niece whom he hasn’t seen since her childhood. Andie is coming from rehab and it is either go back or live in a safe situation, thus the middle of nowhere. We have Andie getting used to beans every day though she prefers vegetables, while he can’t stand a bratty kid. Eventually, she does join him in farm work. They “drive the line” every day to check fences and do repairs.  This is a part of life there and also slides over into Andie’s life to form a stability she didn’t seem to have before. Driving the old truck, digging fence posts and watching out for rattlesnakes. Into the mix comes Richie, a local boy with an eye for girls.  In the meantime, Erwin is beginning to loosen up about his past that includes talking about his wife, Tilly, who is in Rochester (Mayo Clinic?) being treated for cancer. As time goes on, uncle and niece start to know each other as needing sounding boards for their emotions, and what better place than under the stars on a prairie. It is surprising what is revealed.  Along with the two main actors, there is the cinematography by Peter “Per” Wigand that is a third actor in their scenes, and music by Garth Stevenson that is the fourth actor.  This quartet makes the movie come alive. 

Jessica Rothe makes Andie go from a I-want-my-own-way girl, to someone who begins to realize this is her last chance.  Since Uncle won’t give in, she has to acquiesce and gradually, a bond is formed. Watching the expressions on her face is revealing.  Bates Wilder as Uncle Erwin goes from a stumbling drunk to having to care for someone to realizing Andie really is family and he can accept her if he tries. His facial expressions, too, are revealing.  With sparse dialogue, the actor’s body languages are part of the script.  When others enter the scene, such as awkward Richie (Forest Weber), you can see how emotionally close Uncle and niece are becoming. It is sink or swim. 

You could actually see this film twice. Once to absorb the countryside and the other to see how cinematography and acting blend.  Probably because it could not be resisted, there is a reference to the filming of “Dances With Wolves” in the dialogue.  From the beginning of the film and riding in the old truck (also no air conditioning) to working with Andie putting in fence posts to watching Erwin laboriously writing letters to his wife to seeing a clear night sky overhead unhampered by street lights, the audience is caught up in the ambience of the story and surroundings.  Makes you wonder what film project Andrew Kightlinger is planning next?  


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner