Three working class friends win you over in this riveting film version of a play.
Just the other day, a friend of mine knew “Small Engine Repair” was going to be playing at my local theater this weekend. Both of us knew nothing about it. So, I went to find out for myself. It’s a film version of a Broadway play that John Pollono wrote and starred in. Once again, he writes and directs himself on screen with the right aspects. It has comedy, drama, and a dark tone that combines them both.
We meet three friends living in Manchester, New Hampshire, who break up after a bar fight, and reunite three months later. We meet Small Engine Repair shop owner Frank Romanowski (Pollono), who’s raising his teenage daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo from “Cherry”), Terrence Swaino (Jon Bernthal, who also acted in the 2011 version), who’s a ladies’ man, and Packie Hanrahan (Shea Whigham), who’s an expert on social media.
Given its independent status and consistency, I was reminded of two Danish movies with buddies and dark twists. “Another Round” was about teachers sneaking in booze to make their lives better, while “Riders of Justice” was zany and serious at a delicate balance. Both of them starred Mads Mikkelsen, but that’s beside the point. The point is that “Small Engine Repair” introduces us to these three buddies, and proves they’re more than meets the eye. Something that most commercial comedies can’t always seem to grasp.
After the breakup, Frank brings his boys back together for a night of booze, TV fights, steaks, drugs, and conversations. Then comes Frank’s Molly dealer Chad Walker (Spencer House), who sticks around for a drink or two. But then the fun is over when he tells the boys about a chick he got to post nip pics, and is so humiliated that she ultimately tried to kill herself with pills. Frank knows that particular person, and wants revenge on his dealer. And that also boils his ex-wife Karen (Jordana Spiro), whom his friends hate for being a lousy mother to Crystal. The execution is something that Carey Mulligan’s “Promising Young Woman” character would have enjoyed.
It took a while for me to warm up to the characters and their aspects, but “Small Engine Repair” eases us in with some good laughs, sincere emotions, and a twist I didn’t see coming. Probably because I didn’t see the play, so this would be original to me. Pollano is fresh in front of and behind the camera, as a man, who needs to better himself and take care of his daughter, who often resents him for his choices in life. And he also guides the cast very well.
Bernthal (also a producer) is good in almost every movie he does, and he does an awesome job using his words and attitude wisely. Whigham has some depth and humor in his character. And Bravo has proven herself to be a fine young actress this year. I know I say that a lot, but it’s true. I can tell which young actor/actress has a gift, and which one would be better off doing commercials.
“Small Engine Repair” is released by Vertical Entertainment and not a major studio, so it’s understandable why you might not have heard about this movie. I still think if you read my positive review, you should see it for yourselves. It deals with masculinity, regrets, and fraternity, and it wins us over with how the characters overcome them. That is if they do overcome them.