If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve probably known someone like Melanie (Sara Richardson). She’s the chatty person that seems to be speaking all the time, but to no one directly. It’s a consistent chatter, and most of the time you just tune her out… which usually just makes her chat more. Endearingly annoying and obnoxious.
On the other side is Barrett (Chris Cummings). Having seemingly stepped direct from a greaser gang in the 1950s, Barrett is all brood and short temper. He’s the type of guy who seems to always be in trouble; he doesn’t appear to be actively looking for it, but he never leaves when it’s around either. “Ticking time bomb” would be a fair description.
One day, while heading to the library, Melanie does her Melanie thing and speaks to the brooding Barrett in the parking lot. Barrett, unlike everyone else Melanie seems to know, doesn’t ignore her, but instead responds. Thus begins the odd courtship of Melanie and Barrett, and the two navigate the challenging waters of spending time together. While Melanie’s brand of crazy could be considered easier to tolerate, Barrett’s penchant for violence and fighting may be too much for the couple to bear.
Rough Tender is the type of quirky, tragic romantic dramedy that tend to be found quite often in the world of independent film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; like any genre, there are always similarities in the films within it, but when a film does the genre right, it doesn’t matter how shared the ideas may or may not be.
In this case, the film primarily works because the leads, even in their most annoying or brooding moments, are still charming enough to keep you interested. Sara Richardson’s Melanie has that outward strength that seems to come with appearing extroverted, but inside she’s just lonely. Likewise, Chris Cummings’ Barrett may seem like a badass, but that’s just because he works so hard to project that image. Really, he’s just as scared and lonely as anyone.
The film also looks and sounds great, with touches of style that truly elevate the entire experience. For example, there’s a sequence near the end of the film where we get a glimpse into the inner workings of Barrett’s mind, and the film transforms its overall aesthetic into a B-movie zombie flick with our favorite greaser as the hero. Whether it makes logical sense or not, to Barrett, his violent outbursts aren’t the results of someone who is mentally unhinged, but of an anti-hero doing his best to save the day against enemies apparently only he can truly understand.
Tonally the film exists as one would expect it to, based on the premise. There are sentimental and romantic moments, quirky awkward scenes and then scenes of intense anger and violence. The brutality can seem severe at times, but the film doesn’t really trade in gore so it’s never portrayed in too horrible a fashion. Basically, it doesn’t go shock for shock’s sake, and maintains its overall allegiance to the tragic romantic dramedy vibe.
Overall, Rough Tender is a quality film. I can’t say I was thoroughly enthused with how the film ended, but it was less of a case of being disappointed with the filmmaking as it was just having the film wrap-up in a way I wasn’t necessarily expecting or happy with. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, or make logical sense, though.
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