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It’s a weird world. Kid’s beauty pageants and absurd reality shows dominate television and stories of the worst crimes fascinate the news. Media hounds push for any kind of coverage and the internet and cable news are a breeding ground for the worst in people. Using this as a launching pad, here comes Austin Found, a comedy that looks to skewer the beast that feeds the machine but even as it has some great ideas, comes up short in truly hitting its target.
The glory days of high school behind her, former beauty queen Leanne Miller (Linda Cardellini) is frustrated with how life is turning out. Married to her unexciting but reliable husband Donald (Jon Daly) she lives vicariously through her eleven-year-old daughter Patty (Ursula Parker), though she wants nothing to do with beauty queening. Looking to break the cycle and get rich quick, she takes a tip from a recent kidnapping that brought millions to the parents and so hatches a plan to have Patty taken. She manipulates her old boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), and his sensitive ex-con friend, Jebidiah (Craig Robinson) to do the job with a promise to Billy that she’s not entirely willing to commit to.
Directed by Will Raée, Austin Found is a curious film, not quite the dark comedy it should be and never as critical of the people it tries to mock. While there are some amusing moments, it’s hard to get behind anyone and maybe that’s the point, though like a tepid Ruthless People, Leanne is narcissistic and selfish but not nearly as scathing or nasty as the premise seems to want to make her. Far too light-hearted, there are no weighty consequences and while the subject can certainly work as a comedy, here the gags and sets up are a string of contrivances that rarely find the mark.
Kristen Schaal plays a reporter who was a high school nerd who was bullied by Leanne and now seeks to expose the former Queen Bee and while Schaal is one of the funniest women working today, she is entirely wasted here, as is Patrick Warburton as the local sheriff and wanna-be thespian. It’s a shame because, especially in Schaal’s hands, this should have been far darker but instead is nothing but easy swings at easy targets. We really ought to be siding with Leanne and yet the script does nothing to leverage any weight in her direction, allowing us to truly connect with what would drive a mother to do such a thing, instead propping the character up like a punching bag for laughs. Cardellini does what she can with Leanne and has a few inspired moments, but the film lets her down.
Austin Found is not longing for talent. Robinson and Ulrich deliver as well but the the film compromises too much on the premise, and while it’s filled with all the predictable tropes, just can’t make it bite like it should.
Movie description: Austin Found is a 2017 comedy about a woman who is fed up with her mundane and so lifestyle hatches a scheme to make her family instant celebrities, but not everything goes as planned.
Director(s): Will Raée
Actor(s): Linda Cardellini, Skeet Ulrich, Jaime Pressly