Review: ‘The Hater’ (2022), starring Joey Ally, Bruce Dern, Meredith Hagner, Ian Harding, Ali Larter and Nora Dunn

March 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front, from left to right: Nora Dunn (second from left), Joey Ally, Meredith Hagner, Bruce Dern and D’Angelo Lacy in “The Hater” (Photo by Elizabeth Kitchens/Vertical Entertainment)

“The Hater” (2022)

Directed by Joey Ally

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Alabaster, Texas, in 2020, the comedy/drama film “The Hater” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A progressive liberal Democratic campaign worker goes back to her politically conservative Texas hometown and poses as a conservative Republican in a state representative primary election, in order to defeat a politician who bullied her when they were children. 

Culture Audience: “The Hater” will appeal primarily to people interested in political dramedies and who have a high tolerance for watching abrasive personalities.

Ian Harding in “The Hater” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Once you get past all the obnoxious ranting by the movie’s main character, “The Hater” is a comedy/drama that has as much to say about political and cultural wars in America as it does about family, female empowerment and the grieving process. It’s not a film that everyone is going to like, simply because the protagonist is a loud, aggressive and unapologetically liberal “social justice warrior.” However, “The Hater” is not a movie that completely bashes political conservatives, who are presented not as a monolith but as people who have beliefs that vary within conservative ideology. The movie has some sly commentary about political campaigns and how candidates of any political leaning are capable of giving in to corruption.

Joey Ally is the star of “The Hater,” which is her feature-film debut as a writer/director. In the movie, she plays Dorothy Goodwin, a political junkie who has been obsessed with politics since she was a child growing up in the fictional city of Alabaster, Texas. The movie opens with a flashback to Dorothy at about 11 or 12 years old (played by Elizabeth Kankiewicz) giving a campaign speech to an assembled group of students in her bid to run for class president. She earnestly talks about civic-minded duties, and she quotes Thomas Jefferson. The students seem bored or downright hostile to Dorothy’s speech.

Dorothy’s opponent is rich kid Brent Hart (played by Wesley Kimmel), who shouts: “I want to be class president so we can have [French] fries all day, every day!” The crowd cheers, while Dorothy is shown looking dismayed at the side of the stage. Needless to say, Dorothy lost the election. And it’s later revealed through conversations in the movie that Brent bullied her when they were in school together.

“The Hater” then flash forwards to the year 2020, with Dorothy as an adult in her late 20s or early 30s. She’s a speech writer for a Democratic political candidate named Scott Park (played by Rob Yang), who has to bail her out of jail because she’s been arrested during an environmental protest where she and other protestors wore pig masks and chanted, “Trees not greed!” The video of her arrest went viral, and Scott isn’t pleased about how her arrest will affect his political campaign. Scott hints that he wants to fire Dorothy, but before he goes through with it, Dorothy decides to quit.

Feeling adrift and rejected, Dorothy decides to fly back to her hometown of Alabaster and stay at the house that she co-owns with her widowed paternal grandfather Frank Goodwin (played by Bruce Dern), who lives alone at the house. Frank is a curmudgeonly political conservative who regularly watches Fox News. Dorothy inherited the house from her late father Theodore “Ted” Goodwin, who raised her as a single parent. Dorothy’s mother is never seen or mentioned in the movie.

Frank is the type of person who uses sarcasm to express himself. When Dorothy shows up unannounced at the door, Frank pretends to disapprove of Dorothy’s nose ring and slams the door in her face. Just as Dorothy is about to remove the nose ring, Frank opens the door and chuckles that he was just messing with Dorothy, whom he hasn’t seen in about a year.

“I didn’t know if you were even alive,” Frank tells Dorothy. “I never thought I’d see you again.” Dorothy says about Frank’s remark: “It’s a little dramatic. I was home last year for your birthday.” Dorothy is a Democrat who works on political campaigns, but she also shows signs that she distrusts the government. She lectures Frank about not leaving “digital thumbprints” because of “all the data the government is collecting” on people.

It’s never really said outright, but observant viewers will figure out that Dorothy left her hometown behind and cut off contact with a lot of people she knows there because of too many bad memories for her. Not only was she bullied in school, but she’s also emotionally wounded by the death of her father, who was a schoolteacher who taught theater classes. Dorothy and Ted were very close. His cause of death is not mentioned in the movie, but it happened when she was a child. It’s implied that he was the one who influenced her to become politically liberal in a place that is mostly politically conservative.

“The Hater” makes several references to the fact that the movie is taking place in 2020. Without mentioning his name, Dorothy is extremely upset with who is president of the United States. There are mentions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that happened as a result. People aren’t wearing a lot of face masks because Texas is a state well-known for having a large population of people who are against wearing face masks during the pandemic and who protest against any government-ordered pandemic lockdowns.

Unemployed and looking for work on a political campaign, Dorothy doesn’t have much luck finding any paying jobs, so she reluctantly decides to become a campaign volunteer for a Democrat running to be a state congressional representative. Her name is Sally Jensen (played by Melora Walters), who has run for this political office before but has always lost. However, Dorothy nixes those volunteer plans when she finds out that her former school nemesis Brent Hart (played by Ian Harding) is Sally’s Republican opponent in the primary election. Dorothy comes up with a plan to ensure Sally’s victory.

Dorothy remembers a loophole in Texas state law that says that if a candidate wins a primary election, and then drops out of the general election, there can be no other candidate from the candidate’s political party to be in the general election. Because American political elections usually come down to Democrats vs. Republicans (in terms of who gets the most votes), Dorothy decides she’s going to pretend to be a conservative Republican, run against Brent with the hope of winning the primary election, and if she wins, she’ll drop out of the general election, making it easy for Sally to win.

It’s a long-shot gamble, but Dorothy is willing to take it, if only to get some revenge on Brent. Even though Dorothy is a hardcore liberal Democrat, she’s still registered as a Republican voter in Texas. There’s some vague mention that she was a registered Republican in her youth before she changed her political opinions, but Dorothy never changed her Republican party registration in Texas. The house that she owns in Alabaster (in Paula County) is enough for Dorothy to establish the residency she needs to be an eligible candidate. The movie never says how long Dorothy has lived out of the area, so no one comes forward to challenge her Texas residency.

During her hometown visit, Dorothy reconnects with a former school acquaintance named Greta Hoffman (played by Meredith Hagner), who is happy to see Dorothy, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Greta is friendly, but Dorothy’s feelings about Greta are tainted by Dorothy’s memories of Greta being in their school’s “popular kids” clique that would shun outcasts such as Dorothy. Greta is now a married homemaker and mother of a daughter named Mae (played by Ruby June Arnold), a polite, bubbly child who is about 5 or 6 years old. Greta often feels lonely because her husband is a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army, and he spends a lot of time away from home.

Dorothy treats Greta as someone who is intellectually inferior to Dorothy. When Dorothy declares her candidacy, the only people who know her secret about her true beliefs as a progressive liberal are her grandfather Frank and her openly gay best friend Glenn (played by D’Angelo Lacy), who is an aspiring singer who also works as a stylist. Glenn is very skeptical that Dorothy will win the election, but he flies out to Alabaster to visit Dorothy more than once to show his support.

Dorothy enlists the political backing from the leader of the local chamber of commerce women’s group. Her name is Genie (played by Nora Dunn), and she’s a right-wing conservative Republican. There’s also an ambitious TV reporter named Victoria Upson (played by Ali Larter), who becomes a big part of Dorothy’s campaign, especially after Dorothy accidentally becomes known as a gun-toting hero when Dorothy thwarts an armed robbery of a convenience store.

As for Brent, he and his hard-driving senator father Trent Hart (played by James L. Brewster) plan to demolish the Alabaster community center to make way for the Hart family’s car dealership. Dorothy is using the car dealership as leverage against Brent in the election to make him look like he and his family are greedy corporate types who want to tear down a place that benefits the community. Brent is being pushed into his election by his father Trent, who says at one point about Dorothy’s ability to get gain support and rise in the poll numbers: “We’ve got this MeToo shit stepping on our necks.”

“The Hater” has some comedic twists and turns that aren’t too far-fetched from what could happen in real life. Dorothy can be extremely off-putting and rude, even to people who agree with her political beliefs. But over time, Dorothy shows a very vulnerable side that makes her more relatable to people in her life, as well as viewers of this movie. All of the cast members give performances that are capably entertaining, but not outstanding. The ending of “The Hater” is a little too contrived and pat, but the movie is a mostly clever take on the political process and how much political candidates can choose to retain their humanity (or not) in brutally competitive elections.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Hater” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Palm Springs,’ starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“Palm Springs”

Directed by Max Barbakow

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Palm Springs, California, and briefly in other parts of the U.S., the comedy film “Palm Springs” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single man and a single woman find themselves in a repetitive time loop where they keep waking up to the wedding day of the woman’s younger sister in Palm Springs, California.

Culture Audience: “Palm Springs” will appeal to primarily people who like offbeat “time warp” comedies, but much of the vulgar humor lacks wit or originality.

Meredith Hagner and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

A blatant and vastly inferior ripoff of the 1993 Bill Murray classic comedy “Groundhog Day,” the time-loop comedy film “Palm Springs” might be interesting to fans of star Andy Samberg, but everyone else will feel like they’re stuck watching a repetitive time-loop skit get less funny as time goes on. A sardonic supporting performance by the always-great J.K. Simmons isn’t enough to save this smug film, which isn’t as clever as the filmmakers like to think it is.

People who follow news in the entertainment industry might be aware that the Hulu comedy film “Palm Springs” broke a Sundance Film Festival record for the highest amount paid ($17.5 million and 69 cents) to acquire a film that premiered at Sundance. The previous record holder was Fox Searchlight’s $17.5 million purchase of the 2016 drama “Birth of a Nation,” actor Nate Parker’s feature-film directorial debut.

The record-breaking sum that Hulu paid for “Palm Springs” would lead people to believe that this movie, which clearly won’t be an Oscar contender, is at least on par with a crowd-pleasing classic, such as director Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” a movie about a weatherman who’s stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. Unfortunately, “Palm Springs” (directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara) doesn’t come close to the charm and memorable humor of “Groundhog Day.”

It’s pretty obvious that the overrated “Palm Springs” was sold for an overpriced amount because movie executives got caught up in a bidding war for a mediocre film. When has Samberg ever starred in a quality movie that was a big hit with audiences? Never. “Palm Springs” certainly won’t be his first “blockbuster” hit.

In “Palm Springs,” Sandberg plays an obnoxious ne’er do well named Nyles, who is stuck in a time loop where he keeps waking up to November 9, the day of a wedding that he is supposed to attend with his girlfriend Misty (played by Meredith Hagner), a stereotypical ditsy blonde who is one of the bridesmaids. Viewers won’t find out about this time loop until after the first time that the movie shows Nyles at the wedding.

The wedding is taking place in the upscale desert vacation city of Palm Springs, California. The bride is Tala (played by Camila Mendes), the groom is Abe (played by Tyler Hoechlin) and the maid of honor is Tala’s divorced older sister Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti), who looks and acts like she’d rather be anywhere else but the wedding. The proud parents of the bride are Howard (played by Peter Gallagher) and Pia (played by Jacqueline Obradors), who don’t do much except look horrified at some of the silly antics that later ensue in the story. And then there’s Nana Schlieffen (played by June Squibb), the token matronly grandmother at the wedding.

Nyles, Misty and Sarah are all staying at the same hotel. When Nyles wakes up in the hotel on the day of the wedding, Misty has just come out of the shower and is putting lotion on her legs. Nyles wants to have sex, and Misty agrees, but only if they make it quick because she says she doesn’t want to get too sweaty. A predictable erection joke is part of this scene, which sets the tone for the rest of this movie. “Palm Springs” makes a lot of crude jokes about sex, but most of the jokes aren’t very funny.

At the wedding, Nyles stands out (and not in a good way) because he’s wearing clothes that are too casual: a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. At the reception, Misty makes an awkward wedding speech, and then it’s Sarah turn to give her speech. Even though she’s the maid of honor, a miserable-looking Sarah seems shocked that she’s expected to make a toast to the bride and groom.

But before she gets a chance to make the speech, Nyles butts in and makes a speech that’s even more cringeworthy than Misty’s speech. What Nyles has to say is both overly sappy and nonsensical. He ends it by stating to the newly married couple: “We may be born lost, but now you are found.”

After that, Nyles (who is constantly chugging beer from beer cans) and Sarah strike up a conversation. Nyles flirts heavily with Sarah and asks her if she wants to go somewhere private with him for a quickie tryst. Sarah tells him that he’s being very forward, but she’s intrigued by his boldness.

While Nyles and Sarah are outside, they pass by a bathroom where the reception is being held. The bathroom is on the ground level, and they can clearly see into the bathroom’s window (this place clearly doesn’t care about guests’ privacy), where they witness Misty cheating with a wedding guest named Trevor (played by Chris Pang). Trevor, who’s dressed in a glittery cowboy suit at the wedding, is one of those quirky characters that was written in this movie in its failed attempt to be like a Wes Anderson comedy.

Now that Sarah knows that Nyles’ girlfriend/wedding date doesn’t really care about him, Sarah takes Nyles up on his offer to hook up with him out in the desert. Before that happens, Sarah tells Nyles that she’s the “black sheep” of her family, because her family thinks she’s a “liability” who thinks “I fuck around and drink too much.”

While Sarah and Nyles are having a steamy makeout session, Nyles suddenly gets wounded on his shoulder by an arrow. Out of the shadows, a man wearing dark camouflage paint on his face starts to chase Nyles with a bow and arrow, while Sarah freaks out and is confused by what’s going on. It turns out that the angry bow-and-arrow hunter is named Roy (played by J.K. Simmons), and Roy wants revenge on Nyles for a reason that’s revealed later in the story.

Meanwhile, during this chase scene, Nyles runs into a cave where there’s a strange glowing red light. Sarah follows Nyles into the cave. And it turns out this mysterious cave is the portal that causes a time-loop that keeps going back to November 9. Now that Sarah has gone into the cave, she’s stuck in the time loop with Nyles too. Just like Nyles, every time Sarah now wakes up, it’s in the Palm Springs hotel on the November 9 wedding day.

“Palm Springs” has a lot of slapstick humor to distract from the uninspired dialogue in the movie. After Sarah finds out that she’s stuck in the same time loop as Nyles, much of the film is about Sarah being angry with Nyles because she feels that she didn’t deserve to be unknowingly trapped in the loop.

Nyles has been in the loop long enough to warn Sarah that attempts to get out of the loop have failed. Committing suicide doesn’t work. (Although an idea presented later in the story contradicts that theory.) It also doesn’t work to take stimulant drugs that keep people up for days. Traveling to another city (which Sarah does when she drives all the way back to her messy house in Austin, Texas) also doesn’t get them out of loop either.

The movie never explains what Nyles did for a living before he got caught in the time loop, but he’s reached a point of feeling resigned about his fate in the loop. Therefore, he acts as recklessly and obnoxiously as possible (including breaking several laws), because he knows that when he wakes up, he’ll be back in that Palm Springs hotel room on the November 9 wedding day.

Nyles also tells Sarah that being stuck in the time loop has caused him to feel free to have sexual hookups with as many people as possible, including three people who keep showing up in this story: a bartender named Daisy (played by Jena Friedman), who works at the wedding reception; Darla (played by Dale Dickey) a crusty regular at a local bar; and fashionable Jerry (played by Tongayi Chirisa), one of the wedding guests.

At first, Sarah gets caught up in being as “bad” as possible, so a great deal of the movie shows Sarah and Nyles acting like drunken, irresponsible teenagers. But Sarah soon grows tired of these shenanigans and wants to get out of the loop and back to her normal life. It goes without saying that Sarah and Nyles start to have romantic feelings for each other, so Nyles is conflicted about Sarah wanting to leave the loop while he might remain stuck there.

Unfortunately for “Palm Springs,” the chemistry between Samberg and Milioti isn’t very believable when Nyles and Sarah start to become a romantic couple. Milioti seems to be doing her best to bring some laughs to the story, but Sarah is such a deeply unhappy, self-loathing person that it’s hard to believe that Sarah can fall in love when she doesn’t even love herself.

Parts of “Palm Springs” seem like a more adult-language version of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that’s worn out its welcome. Samberg, who’s a “Saturday Night Live” alum, has the same type of one-note “man child” persona that he had on the show. It’s the same persona that Pete Davidson has also taken as part of his comedic image.

A comedy with this “time loop” concept should be fun to watch, but “Palm Springs” is a chore to watch because the two main characters don’t have charismatic personalities. Huge stretches of “Palm Springs” drag on for too long. And even the movie’s visual effects look cheap and clunky.

The best thing about “Palm Springs” is how the “travelogue” type of cinematography (from Quyen Tran) makes a vacation in Palm Springs look very enticing. But people can watch attractive travel videos for free on the Internet, and this movie isn’t supposed to be a travel video.

People aren’t going to sign up for Hulu en masse to watch this movie, so “Palm Springs” certainly wasn’t worth the $17.5 million price tag. “Palm Springs” is not only a waste of Hulu’s money but it’s also a waste of viewers’ time, unless people have a high tolerance for Samberg’s recycled “man child” persona.

Hulu premiered “Palm Springs” on July 10, 2020

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