Small Town Wisconsin (2020) [Rising Sun Festival 2020]

A divorced father who’s let himself go faces the reality of losing custody and visitation of his son. As he tries to make things right, he discovers more about himself during a last hoorah weekend in Milwaukee with his son and best friend.

Written by Jason Naczek and directed by Niels Mueller, Small Town Wisconsin takes the tale of an eternal teenager and gives him a very late coming-of-age that feels right. A few other movies with similar situations have attempted to do this and failed in making it connect the way this film does. Here, the story and characters are done in a way that gives the film something more to offer and the viewer something to get attached to. The father at the center of the story comes off as a loser who can’t get his life together, but he’s not a grating loser and he has hope. This hope is visible fairly early on and it helps the viewer keep with the film and want to see what happens to this character. The way the story develops shows that it’s not a straight line and it’s difficult for him to get out of his own way, but once things start changing, it’s clear that this character was not rotten to the core, but simply stuck in his old ways for lack of a reason to leave them.

Playing this character just right is David Sullivan who gives him that little something that can be held onto until he gets his life in order. The way Sullivan plays him is of the utmost importance as playing him with a hint of hope is the only way to make this film work. His work here is something that plenty will see as a bit of loser, but a loser with heart. This means that his nuances are what make the film. The film lives and dies with is interpretation, so his work is the most important here. However, he can’t make the film all by himself, so the rest of the cast support him in different ways each. Bill Heck as Chuck gives a performance that occasionally steals scenes and entire sequences, Kristen Johnston as Alicia is a bright light in a film where there is not enough until she shows up. Her character is a bit of a linchpin in a way that should not be spoiled. Playing the lead’s son is Cooper J. Friedman who gives a good performances and manages to keep the kid character from becoming annoying and burdensome, his performance rounds out the main cast just about perfectly.

Small Town Wisconsin is a bit of a road movie in part and a family movie as a whole and could easily have looked like a Lifetime film or something with an extremely low budget, but the cinematography by Nathaniel Goodman keeps it elevated by filming scenes in a way that gives them more impact and a look that elevates this out of the trailer part where it starts. The work Goodman puts in here makes every location look familiar yet with its own appeal, something that is not easy when in a trailer, a house that’s falling apart, a small town’s bowling alley, or a cheap motel’s parking lot. This work definitely elevates the film and makes it easier to watch.

Small Town Wisconsin manages to take the story of an overgrown teenager who gets his coming-of-age moment a bit late and while fighting for his child and turns it into a story that is easy to connect with by having characters that are likable even when they are not supposed to be and by having things develop in what feels like a natural way. Of course, there are a few hiccups along the way, but generally speaking, this film is one that feels good in the end even if it doesn’t end where the viewer would expect.