In my opinion, “Trash Fire” once again proves the law of diminishing returns. For the third time now – after the brilliant “Excision” and the solid “Suburban Gothic” – writer-director Richard Bates Jr. takes on a dysfunctional family, and I have to say, it starts to get old. He seems to be one of those artists who, instead of paying for a psychiatrist, rather tries to come to terms with his issues through his work (and thus lets the audience pay for his therapy, in a way). Ok, we get it, you had a rough childhood. Could we, by any chance, move on now?
It actually doesn’t start off too bad. Granted, right from the beginning, Owen is a complete and utter asshole, but for the first couple of minutes, he’s at least a slightly charming and amusing one, with his very dark humor and his tendency for being brutally honest. However, said appeal wore off quickly, and soon enough, he degenerated from a charming to a despicable asshole for me, whom I found so insufferable that it was hard to me to understand how anyone could (and/or why anyone would) tolerate (t)his shit – let alone his attractive girlfriend, Isabel. Thus, “Trash Fire” once again features one of those couples where you ask yourself why they’re together in the first place, and actually wish for them to break up. The movie also takes far too long until they finally get to his grandma. Once there, “Trash Fire” comes to life at least a little bit more, thanks to Fionnula Flanagan’s gleefully nasty portrayal of her. And in principle, every movie which takes a critical stance towards organized religion should be right up my alley. But somehow, the religious criticism ended up being too much and overbearing even for me (preaching to the choir so loud that it starts to hurt even in their ears is no small feat). There also was not one sympathetic character in sight (no, not even Isabel, since she keeps up with the shit of both Owen and her brother). I also didn’t like the overused stylistic device of having the protagonists talking directly into the camera (not that they talk to the audience, mind you, but we’re supposed to be the person at the other and of the conversation). And when it comes to the ending, in my opinion Richard Bates Jr. tried too hard to reach a similarly shocking conclusion as in “Excision” (and failed). There, the finale seemed to be almost inevitable, but here it came out of nowhere, and didn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the movie.
Still, it’s not bad. As soon as they reach his grandma, it’s mostly entertaining. Fionnula Flanagan is absolutely great, and hands down the best thing about the movie. I liked some of the ideas. And there were a couple of funny scenes and/or great moments which I’ll remember for quite a while (can you say “rattlesnake”?). However, at least in my book, it would be high time now for Richard Bates Jr. to try something different.