The new film Tone-Deaf stars Robert Patrick as a millennial hating baby boomer who decides it is time for his generation to finally make a stand to today’s youth…by booby-trapping his house and AirBnB-ing it out to a down-on-her-luck self-centered young woman named Olive (played by Amanda Crew).
Patrick’s Harvey is a pragmatic guy who just happens to have lost a few marbles and wants to know what it feels like to torment and kill a dumb millennial. We know this because he breaks the fourth wall, Deadpool-style, to talk to us, the audience and about his plans. It’s not quite as easy as it seems because, just like in real life, boomers constantly underestimate millennials and Harvey gets a lot more than he bargained for.
Tone-Deaf is a fun bit of escapist genre and I got to talk to its two stars and director Ricky Bates Jr. shortly after their SXSW premiere.
The interview started out a little weird, with Robert Patrick putting his co-workers and yours truly in an Instagram story just as I sat down, funnily enough the most millennial thing he could have done. It continued to be weird when I made mention of one of the most notoriously wrong movies of all time, A Serbian Film, right off the bat.
That said, it’s a fun, loose chat that is all over the map like the best out-of-control conversations you might have with your friends. Still, we were able to cover tone and the generational divide at the heart of the film. Enjoy!
Congratulations on the movie. It’s really fun. When you watch a SXSW midnight movie you never know what you’re walking in to. It could be light and breezy or it could be A Serbian Film.
Robert Patrick: A Serbian Film?
Ricky Bates Jr.: Have you seen it? A guy takes some guy’s eye out with his boner. He literally kills a guy with his hard dick! It’s very dark.
Tone-Deaf also has something on its mind, but it’s also allowed to have fun. It’s funny, but tense and not a soul-crushing experience.
Ricky Bates Jr.: Yeah, dude. We tried to create this heightened reality so that when we were dealing with these social and generational issues there is a sense of escapism. It’s very much a midnight movie.
Robert Patrick: It’s so much fun. It was fun watching with that (SXSW) audience. They were very appreciative of it. That was the perfect environment. Beer and food and everybody got the jokes at the right place. That was fun to witness with an audience.
You’ve already mentioned there’s a generational aspect to Tone-Deaf…
Robert Patrick: And in our society. What’s going on here, man? I mean, look around here. There’s Austin and then there’s the rest of Texas. It’s not just generational. It’s political. It’s fascinating times we live in. I think this movie captures everything that’s going on in our society right now. Almost everything.
It does what genre films are great at. It can be a commentary on these social issues, but do it in an entertaining way.
Robert Patrick: That was the appeal to do the movie. I thought it was really clever the way the film was laid out. Seeing it all pieced together, too, the editor did a fantastic job. I understand millennials a little bit better now.
Amanda Crew: And I feel like I understand baby boomers a little bit more, too.
Robert Patrick: We have such contempt for each other! I had so much fun making this movie and so much fun watching it. I was a little anxious going into last night’s screening.
Ricky Bates Jr.: You and me both, buddy!
Robert Patrick: It’s a different movie on the big screen.
Ricky Bates Jr.: We break the fourth wall in the film and in a theater everyone participates. All my other movies can be watched alone, right? But we shot this for the theater.
Robert Patrick: You know what really played? Those sort of shocker moments, like when we tomahawk her foot…
Ricky Bates Jr.: There’s a moment where you smash her head that was palpably painful on screen.
Robert Patrick: That was hard to do. Remember that day? You weren’t happy with the way it was going down and I think I got a little frustrated. I said, “You know what, motherfuckers? Let’s grab this thing and put a pad there and camera there…” and you were going “Ehhh…” It worked.
Ricky Bates Jr.: We had some lighting issues, but with the sound design it is like the most painful thing.
Most of the booby trap things in the house work so well because you take the time to show Robert’s character setting it all up. That’s the Hitchcock thing of showing the bomb under the table.
Ricky Bates Jr.: We have little throughlines, if you watch the movie again, where everything connects. So many little things. Even if nobody else ever notices, I do that for myself so I can feel like I tried.
So much of the movie is about the generational differences in this country right now. I have a foot in booth worlds. I was born in 1981, so I’m a little too young to be Gen X and a little too old to be the textbook definition of a millennial.
Robert Patrick: You’re not Gen X?
Eric Vespe: I think I missed Gen X by a few months. They tried to introduce a new category for people like me, they called us Xennials, but I don’t think that ever caught on.
Ricky Bates Jr.: I don’t like that at all. Xennial?
I grew up in a time before the internet, but was also young enough to adapt to the computer generation with ease, yet can’t really relate to a lot of millennial things. So, it was interesting to me to watch this movie where I can see things from both sides.
Amanda Crew: I had a little of that, too, because I don’t really subscribe to the full millennial headspace. I felt in-between the two characters. I felt for Robert’s character because sometimes I hate millennials, too! Olive is sometimes nasty.
Ricky Bates Jr.: If you make fun of everyone then you start to see everyone’s skew, actually. You have to go hard on everyone. It can’t just be a one-sided thing otherwise there’s no perspective.
Robert Patrick: And that’s so helpful. Everybody has self-doubts and insecurities. You take a whole generation of people who have contempt for millennials and they all have that attitude. It’s really a negative thing to do as a group, to identify somebody and start attacking them. That happens in our news, that’s happening politics and it’s fucking wrong, man. It should be less negative and more positive, but the negative sells. Darkness sells. That’s what we got to change and there’s no magic wand to this. It’ll take a lot of personal growth from individuals themselves; spiritual growth. That was the thing that was attractive to me from the movie’s point of view. The fact that she could have some sympathy for my generation and likewise. That’s gonna bridge the gap.
Ricky Bates Jr.: We tried to take the stance that everybody is a hypocrite. That’s the common ground: we’re all full of shit.
Which is underlined when you let Amanda’s character break the fourth wall herself, which is something only Robert’s character is allowed to do for most of the movie.
Ricky Bates Jr.: That’s them fighting for the movie.
Robert Patrick: And, by the way, Ray Wise is fantastic in that scene. And he was underpaid, apparently.
Ricky Bates Jr.: Oh shit, did I say that last night?
Robert Patrick: Yes, you did.
Ricky Bates Jr.: Fuuuuuuck. You should have given me a little nudge.
Robert Patrick: Ricky, there were some points when I was going to grab your belt loop and pull you back and then there was other times I was going to kick you into the audience.
Ricky Bates Jr.: I really wish you had kicked me into the audience early on. I wouldn’t have taken offense to it! I would have thanked you the next day!
Robert Patrick: Don’t worry about it. You were funny. (Pauses) Now we’re talking about the Q&A for our movie. (laughs)
Ricky Bates Jr.: Truly, truly… I never had more fun on a movie in my life. Usually that sounds like bullshit.
Robert Patrick: He did! He was in a good mood the whole time.
Ricky Bates Jr.: They were so committed! They got weird. We had so much fun.
Robert Patrick: Amanda has a big speech she does and you guys did that a lot. Amanda was striving for something and (Ricky) was striving for something…
Amanda Crew: We were duking it out.
Robert Patrick: She was hard on herself. I don’t think Ricky was hard on her, but she was hard on herself…
Ricky Bates Jr.: I was trying to get her a little angry.
Amanda Crew: Yeah, you were pushing me to get a little pissed at you. And it worked.
Ricky Bates Jr.: It did. You can see it in your eyes. It’s good!
That’s a little old school director manipulation there, like Kubrick or Friedkin…
Ricky Bates Jr.: No, it was not Kubrick. I did not insult her or berate her. (laughs)
Robert Patrick: You know what the weird thing is? I’m 60 years old and I saw a lot of my father’s contempt for my generation of baby boomers in my character. It’s not a new thing. It’s a weird thing. You think you’re so virtuous with the things you hold dear to your heart and you’re so resentful when people don’t appreciate it the same way. I can see a lot of my dad in my performance, which was weird for me last night.
And that’s not something you registered when you were performing it?
Robert Patrick: I don’t think so. It might have been something I thought about.
Amanda Crew: When you’re in it you’re not putting judgment on what you’re doing. The minute you put judgment on it you’re no longer the character. For me watching it, I had a whole other experience. When we were filming I felt like Olive was correct. Fuck you for firing me! I’m entitled to a free life. Then when I was watching it I was like, “Oh, I’m a garbage human being!” When you’re in it you’re committed to being right. I had a bit of a moment last night where I didn’t like myself.
Ricky Bates Jr.: But we go hard on you. We go very hard on you.
Amanda Crew: I love that about it. It’s an interesting experience because I’ve never had that before.
Ricky Bates Jr.: Nobody comes across particularly well, but that’s the reality of it. He hates her for being so preoccupied with herself, but it’s his preoccupation with his place in the world and how it’s being challenged by her that leads to his deevolution.
Amanda Crew: We’re both up our own asses.
Robert Patrick: We’re all walking that high wire. Mental illness crept in for me. There’s so many things that if things don’t line up just right could make you go off.
Ricky Bates Jr.: And you’ll justify what you’re doing. I’m going to take this opportunity to thank my psychiatrist Dr. Frank Katz. God bless you, buddy.
Tone-Deaf has a limited theatrical run and VOD release starting today, August 23.
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