'Austin Found': Film Review

Austin Found Still - Publicity - H 2017
Nurha de Souza
Abrasively self-absorbed.

Linda Cardellini and Skeet Ulrich co-star in Will Raee's Texas-set satire of media obsession.

The limits of America's celebrity-focused culture are sorely tested in Austin Found, a social satire that unnervingly raises the stakes for achieving fleeting media fame. Will Raee's feature wrings a few laughs from a strained premise, but remains far better suited to short-attention span formats than theatrical play.

Former high school cheerleader and prom queen Leanne (Linda Cardellini), now in her mid-30s, lives a sedate life with her glory days far behind her. Her focus now is tending to her unassuming husband Don (Jon Daly) and attempting to recapture some of her former celebrity by coaching 11-year-old daughter Patty (Ursula Parker) through an endless round of beauty contests and talent shows. Frustrated by losing her rightful place in Austin's social scene and influenced by a steady stream of sensationalist news and daytime talk shows, Leanne hits on an audacious plan to fake Patty's kidnapping and convert the subsequent media attention into a renewed bid for fame.

Knowing that her scheme would never get Don's approval, Leanne seeks out her former high-school boyfriend and ex-con Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Sensing a romantic flame rekindling, Billy recruits his old prison buddy Jebidiah (Craig Robinson) to assist with snatching Patty and secretly holding her at his rustic cabin outside of town. As Leanne exploits the extensive media coverage of her daughter's disappearance, she attracts the attention of her old high school rival Nancy (Kristen Schaal), now a local TV reporter who's convinced that Leanne has faked the entire episode and determines to publicly expose her.

Brenna Graziano's script relies far more on trafficking in stereotypes than developing relatable characters, essentially escalating a tired set of high-school rivalries by substituting grown-up stakes. As Leanne attempts to regain her queen-bee status, Billy focuses on reclaiming the super-popular girl he lost to an undeserving rival while Nancy schemes to sabotage her former tormentor's ongoing charade.

Patty and Jebidiah prove to be the only remotely genuine characters, as they develop an unexpected bond during her prolonged captivity, united by their escalating contempt for Leanne's selfishness. Catalyzed by crisis, Robinson's reluctant kidnapper emerges as a sweetly innocent man-child who appears to be the only one who can relate to Patty's ordeal as the put-upon daughter of a fame-obsessed pageant mom.

Parker more than holds her own with the adult castmembers, projecting a weary innocence that amplifies the unfairness of Patty's undeserved predicament. If she toned down the hysterics a bit, Cardellini might appear a shade more sympathetic, but her constant state of high anxiety better suits the film's satiric spin. Schaal and Ulrich's mostly one-note performances remain limited by their casting as adult versions of underdeveloped teenage types.

Raee's feature would have benefitted from either a sharper slant on satirizing media-obsessed cultural norms or a darker comedic perspective on the implications of child kidnapping. As it is, splitting the difference makes an unremarkable impression.

Production companies: Caspian Pictures, Omega Point Films

Cast: Linda Cardellini, Skeet Ulrich, Craig Robinson, Ursula Parker, Kristen Schaal, Patrick Warburton, Jon Daly, Matt Jones

Director: Will Raee

Screenwriter: Brenna Graziano

Producers: Mary Pat Bentel, Costanzo Media, Gary Ousdahl, Robert Ruggeri

Executive producers: Matt Carpenter, Edward Chavez, Rafael Chavez, Deric Margolis, Christopher John Richards, Marcus Stern, Tony Vitale, Suzanne Weinert

Director of photography: Ketil Dietrichson

Production designers: Wendy Samuels, Mark Tanner

Costume designer:  Dawn Ritz

Editors: Todd Desrosiers , Michael Pedraza, Will Raee, Jeff Seibenick

Music: Ryan Franks, Scott Nickoley

Casting director: Rich Delia

Venue: Dances With Films


Not rated, 95 minutes