Tater Tot & Patton
Tater Tot & Patton is a refreshing take on two mismatched people changing each other for the better. The complete lack of nostalgia and romanticism, along with the measured drama, make the emotional beats feel honest.
Nearly the entire film takes place on a ranch. Erwin (Bates Wilder) lives a low-key life. He drinks a beer the moment he wakes up, tends to his herds, and not much beyond that. Erwin’s niece by marriage, Andie (Jessica Rothe), arrives in town one day for a little old-fashioned time on the farm to get away from her wild ways back home. After that, the truth between them begins to leak out into the open.
Andie’s Aunt, who’s Erwin’s wife, is not there. He explains only after Andie arrives that his wife is sick and away at a hospital. Andie’s mother was under the impression that she was sending Andie to her estranged sister’s home for the summer, when in fact only Erwin is there.
Erwin is not a bad guy; he’s just set in his ways. He eats the same thing every day and has the same basic routine. Adding a young woman with a rough history into this mix is bound to cause ripples in both of their lives. This is a formula we have seen before in plenty of other movies; two flawed characters are thrown together and somehow they heal one another through embracing their differences.
The film’s greatest strength is not necessarily what it includes, but rather what it doesn’t include. There are no over-the-top emotional blowouts, directly preceding a scene where these polar opposites embrace and realize just how much they’ve grown in their short time together. In fact, the most emotionally explosive scene in Tater Tot & Patton comes when Andie forces Erwin to do something he really doesn’t want to do and he gets pissed.
Instead, the movie approaches the two characters by looking at what makes them similar. Their differences are prominent enough without needing to include them in their emotional journey. Here, they just spend some time together while each of them adjusts to a new life.
Wilder turns in a phenomenal performance as Erwin. Being a convincing curmudgeon, and not a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, is a tough sell and he makes it work. Rothe also shines as Andie. She’s not written as over-the-top addict or a heartbroken woman, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see another actress turn Andie into one of these pillars of bad writing. Andie is human and imperfect. She’s not broken, but she’s also not Wonder Woman in waiting. Rothe manages to trick us all into believing that Andie is not an archetype.
Understated and honest, Tater Tot & Patton takes two people and lets them coexist, without shoehorning them into a cinematic emotional buddy dramedy. We would all be better off if more filmmakers were concerned with respecting their characters more than hitting well-trod plot points.