After eight months of release push-backs and a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, Yann Demage’s “White Boy Rick” has arrived, only to, sadly, not live up to the expectations set by its (pretty outstanding) trailer. I couldn’t help but put “Rick” besides “Boyhood” in my mind, as both features are led by young, inexperienced actors who struggle to carry the weight of the film on their shoulders. In the case of the latter, directed by Richard Linklater, the father figure is given enough room in the script to pull the film back and bring it into an even-better-than-just-redeeming place. Matthew McConaughey, the father figure in “Rick,” isn’t able to fill those same shoes, his relatively minor role in the film not giving him nearly enough time to rise it out of the ashes. Now, of course the two roles are different, but there is something to be said about hiding your headliner too much behind the rook.
“Rick” doesn’t try to do enough for the audience. It’s not heartwarming, it’s not especially active, it doesn’t provide for many gut-busting lines — the film just sort of plays, sitting on your palette but lacking flavor. Some of this can be attributed to the strange, push-and-pull relationship the protagonist Richard Wershe Jr. (Ritchie Merritt, newcomer) has with his father, Richard Sr. (Matthew McConaughey, “Interstellar”). McConaughey’s character is a deadbeat from the drop-of-the-puck, his “lion’s pride” attitude not materializing into anything that might stave off poverty and self-destruction for his family. By the end, after young Rick has gone through multiple fazes of FBI informant, to gun trafficker, to drug trafficker, back to FBI informant, we are supposed to see the Junior’s misguided ways as some glaring fault of the father — even though McConaughey had been trying to hold his son back from getting in too deep the entire time. The film makes it hard to get into young Rick’s head, making his eventual life-sentence outcome hard to attribute to anyone but him. Sure, his dad could have moved out of Detroit instead of trying to stay and turn things around — but no one forced young Rick to get in too deep, eventually so deep that he can’t get out. There’s not enough consistency in theme surrounding the prodigious crack dealer. Had the film taken a firm stance on the morality of Rick Junior’s actions — possibly portrayed him as more of an anti-hero than a lamb to the slaughter — it would have been easier to access the emotions of the character for both the audience and for the actor himself.
“White Boy Rick” lacks a defining texture throughout. The sound design and score never hit quite right. There are lapses in the story where, from one moment to the next, it doesn’t feel like the narrative is approaching any final destination. Many have already touted McConaughey’s performance, which was standout amongst the rest of the unaffecting acting suite, but it even feels that he at times isn’t sure what type of movie he’s in. For how fun and interesting the preview material made “White Boy Rick” look, it doesn’t manifest in the final product. Score one, LBI Productions marketing team, I guess.