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Review:  ‘Dixieland’ hits authentic notes but misses on story development

Lived-in performances, honest emotions and a strong sense of place highlight the down-home drama “Dixieland.” Still, writer-director Hank Bedford’s Mississippi-set romantic drama would have benefited from judicious tightening and a rethink of its uninspired, decidedly downbeat crime element.

The story, which mostly takes place over a few event-packed days, involves Kermit (Chris Zylka of HBO’s “The Leftovers”), a charismatic troublemaker with a big heart just released from prison. He moves back in with his widowed mom (an effective Faith Hill), a tough, good-time gal who deeply loves her son but remains wary of his darker impulses. Kermit, however, wants to “go straight” and even has a vague ambition to become a barber.

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All bets are off, though, when he lays eyes on the alluring Rachel (Riley Keough), a reluctant stripper who lives in the double-wide next door. Kermit falls hard, Rachel responds in kind and, in a leap even for impulsive young folks, they’re near-instantly using the “L” word. In this dead-end environment, it doesn’t take a compass to predict where this relationship is headed.

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This feels especially true once Kermit signs on to do “one last job” for a local gangster buddy (R.J. Mitte) in order to help Rachel pay off her dying mom’s medical bills — plus allow her to quit dancing for dough at the crummy “gentlemen’s club” run by a sleazy predator (Brad Carter). As for Kermit’s ultimate fate, suffice to say it feels more operatic than organic.

Compelling as Zylka and Keough may be — and we’re definitely rooting for their well-etched characters — Bedford too often plies a kind of woeful wooziness here when a more propulsive approach is in order. Peppering in documentary-style interviews with several candid local denizens may underscore the film’s authenticity but detracts from the narrative at hand.

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“Dixieland.”

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No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood.


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