Awful Nice

Awful Nice ★★★★

At this year’s SXSW, the city of Branson, Missouri is the backdrop of two very different films. We Always Talk To Strangers is a competition film in the documentary category and it tells the story of Branson as a tourist destination. In Todd Sklar’s wonderfully hysterical Awful Nice, it’s where two estranged brothers have to return to pick up their inheritance after the death of their father.

Jim (James Pumphrey) is a seemingly successful professor & author who has settled down and started a family. His brother Dave (Alex Rennie, who co-wrote the film) just can’t seem to get his life together. When we meet him, he’s fully nude and passed out drunk in a teepee on an Indian reservation. Jim picks him up for their father’s funeral in Kansas City where they find out they are being willed the family’s lake house in Branson. There are immediate plans to flip the house and split the check, but the two brothers are so competitive that can barely stay in the same vehicle together without killing each other.

Upon arrival at the lake house, all bets are immediately off. It’s in an incredible state of disrepair and while he never comes clean, it appears as though Dave has been there to party in recent months. It’s also infested with wasps and there’s a skunk living in the bathroom. When they go in to town to have a meeting with their father’s former business partner (played by an unrecognizable Christopher Meloni), he suggests that they hire some contractors and get the place cleaned up fast. Dave decides that the two brothers should fix the house up themselves and that prospect pushes the film into its second act.

There is a frenetic energy to the slapstick comedy on display that is infectious - the theater roared with laughter frequently. Let’s face it, many films in a festival setting are so serious that you don’t often get the chance to see something that is actually funny. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a star-making performance for Rennie when the movie gets picked up for distribution. If Dave was truly your brother, he probably wouldn’t be so funny, but on film, the character hits all the right notes. One of only eight films in the narrative competition this year, the comedy in Awful Nice is a little front loaded, but it provides so many laughs that you won’t mind.