SXSW FILM 2014
By Linc Leifeste | March 7, 2014
Director: Matt Muir
Writer: Matt Muir
Starring: Blake Delong, James Hand, Robyn Rikoon, Sonny Carl Davis, Johnny Walter, Michael D. Conway, Babs George, Andy Langer, Zell Miller III, David Wingo
Thank You A Lot is an Austin, Texas film through and through, from its setting (if you know Austin, you’ll see lots of familiar sites) to its music-centric focus on a variety of musical styles (classic country, indie rock and hip-hop) to its cast (featuring locals such as Andy Langer, Sam Wainwright Douglas and Zell Miller III). But while Matt Muir’s directorial feature film debut can be labeled an “Austin film,” its central themes, of dreams, failures, family, art and commerce, are universal.
Jack Hand (Blake DeLong) is a struggling talent agent at Intrepid Management. He’s not struggling because he’s bad at his job or doesn’t care about his clients but because he’s having a hard time buying into the plastic corporate culture that his boss (Michael D. Conway) exudes, which leaves him on the outs with his boss and co-workers. It doesn’t help that not too long ago he’d tried to get his own management company off the ground, only to have his dreams crushed.
But it turns out that Jack’s estranged father, James Hand (James Hand), is something of a legend in classic country music circles, a throwback performer in the vein of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell who has, of his own choosing, mostly dropped out of public life. Jack’s boss see dollar signs when he thinks of signing the elder Hand to a management deal so he lets Jack know that if he wants to keep his job he needs to have his old man sign on the dotted line. In the process of reestablishing a relationship with his father, Jack has to unearth long-buried family issues and also take a long hard look inside himself, at his motives and desires.
Beautifully shot by cinematographer Harrison Witt, the film blends the crackling energy of Austin’s night-life with the subdued beauty of the Texas hill country that surrounds it. But the film seems to be on its most sure footing when it turns its spotlight on Hand’s quiet, contemplative rural existence, with its wide open blue skies and screened-in front porch guitar pulls. It’s hard to say what acting chops Hand brings to the table, as he’s playing a version of himself, but his performance is striking. There’s no doubt that he has a charismatic screen presence.
If you’re at all familiar with Hand’s recordings or live performances you know that there’s a genuine and sincere sadness lying just under the surface of everything he does. And it’s that sadness that translates beautifully into his performance in Thank You A Lot. I’m not sure how much of Hand’s character’s back-story and dialogue, written by Muir, was based on his first-hand knowledge of Hand’s own story and thoughts, but when Hand speaks eloquently of the inescapable urge to chase his artistic dreams and the price that quest has cost him, it’s a moving, beautiful thing and has the feel of well-crafted documentary as much as fictional narrative.