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ACIDMAN (2023)

Release Date: 03/31/23 [VOD]
Genre: Drama. SciFi.

Studio: Brainstorm Media

"Maggie tracks down her estranged and reclusive father Lloyd; together they attempt to make first contact." 


When we are children, we believe anything. It’s both beautiful and embarrassing. That feeling of wonder we get every Christmas Eve, convinced that Santa Claus is really coming to town, is also that feeling of dread you feel when you hear a noise coming from the closet after your siblings let you stay up and watch Stephen King’s IT. While we all grow out of it eventually, it’s our parents’ job to keep that belief alive for as long as possible. Not just so they can keep using Pennywise potentially being in your closet as a way to motivate you to clean your room, but because when that belief is gone, so is part of your innocence. 


We’re too young to realize it but, after bringing us into this world, keeping those beliefs alive are the next best gift our parents can give us. While it would seem like there’s no way to return the favor, writer/director Alex Lehmann’s latest film Acidman suggests otherwise.


The film follows a young woman by the name of Maggie (played by Dianna Agron) who travels cross country to check on her estranged father, Lloyd (played by Thomas Haden Church). To her surprise, when she arrives, she learns that many locals view him as a lunatic and have even given him a nickname implying that he’s on drugs: Acidman. And it doesn’t help that he spends most of his time searching for UFOs. While she is at first reluctant to entertain her dad’s new hobby, Maggie eventually begins to join him on his searches. Rather than find any UFOs, however, they rediscover the problems in their relationship that forced them to part ways in the first place.


Make no mistake. Despite the story’s allure to science fiction, it is an absolute drama - and a powerful one at that. It is a slow burn, meaning that there are many moments and interactions that you have to digest before Lehmann puts everything in perspective for you. Despite being a bit too slow at times, it’s still worth the wait. The film’s last five minutes recontextualize Maggie and Lloyd’s lives in a way that not only gives you hope for both of the characters, but also aims to change your outlook on your life as both a child and a potential parent. 


All that said, it’s hard to imagine the film being as effective without Church and Agron. These are career-best performances. In a perfect world, Church would get his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Lloyd. He is both entertaining and heartbreaking in the way he lives up to the eccentric moniker Acidman. His passion for tracking down UFOs and making contact as Lloyd is so infectious that it will make the audience want to believe. Simultaneously, that looming skepticism about his mental health makes you sympathize with Maggie’s struggle. 


Agron, who already began to show off her post-Glee glow in the indie darling Shiva Baby, plays Maggie with such gravitas that you feel her pain. You feel her frustration as a result of not having her father in her life for the better part of a decade. You feel her sad realization that the person she once knew as her father might be gone forever. Because the character is as boxed up emotionally as Lloyd is physically, Agron does a really good job at expressing all this pain through her eyes. Whether in a simple close-up or a conversation where she’s struggling to say how she really feels, she never fails to captivate. The last look we get at her before the credits rolls is truly what drives Lehmann’s point about belief home. 


As great as the performances and the characters are, the film is not perfect. As mentioned earlier, the film does suffer a bit from its own slow burn approach. Some of the sequences where Maggie and Lloyd hunt UFOs are obviously drawn out. There are also a couple of plotlines that feel forced. One prime example is this subplot involving a dog Lloyd finds. The dog could be removed entirely from the film and the overarching story would remain unchanged. With a runtime of 1 hour and 27 minutes, those choices are understandable. If the film were any shorter it might lose its status as a feature. 


Also, there are some moments where it seems like Lehmann is trying to disregard the film’s ambiguity. For example, there is one scene where Maggie appears to see a UFO, calling even her own beliefs into question. However, by the end it doesn’t really matter. As she finally comes to learn - and what Lehmann is charged to prove to us - is that within every belief is a lie. I mean, the word “lie” literally even lives in the word belief. But like our parents do for us for so long in our lives, when we get older it’s only right that we keep some of their beliefs alive to maintain emotional contact.

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