Steer clear at all costs.
Ramin Bahrani (USA, Special Presentations)
Sunday, September 9, 10:00 p.m.
Princess of Wales (300 King Street West)
Monday, September 10, 12:00 p.m.
Ryerson Theatre (43 Gerrard Street East)
What on Earth happened to Ramin Bahrani?
Having established a well-earned reputation as an astute chronicler of hardscrabble America with three intimately-scaled, but widely-acclaimed features (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo), the director’s latest is a woeful misstep—a stilted, ham-fisted, farmstead melodrama, less fit for the festival circuit than for a movie-of-the-week slot on Agriculture TV.
Dennis Quaid delivers a repellant, caricatured performance as Henry Whipple, a phony, philandering Iowa corn farmer bent on drafting his heirs into the family business. To his dismay, his hotshot son Dean (Zac Effron) has other ideas, and dreams of fame and fortune as a NASCAR driver. Meanwhile, to compound Henry’s woes, his wife is savvy to his extramarital trysts (with Heather Graham, laughably wooden in a thankless role), and he’s also under investigation by his Monsanto-like supplier for unlawfully reselling genetically modified seeds.
In principle, the film’s rural setting is as ripe for empathetic social portraiture as any of the more urbanized milieus Bahrani explored with his previous efforts. In practice, however, At Any Price is an egregiously tone-deaf cautionary tale, artlessly preaching the perils of pursuing the American dream.