Thank You a Lot: SXSW Review

Courtesy of Clearing A Comma, LLC
Austin-set music biz drama focuses on the wrong protagonist

Real-world country singer James Hand plays himself in Matt Muir's debut feature.

AUSTIN — Real-world Texas country songwriter James Hand plays himself in Matt Muir's fiction feature Thank You A Lot — and if you've never heard of him before, that's part of the point. Decades of flying beneath success's radar provide a poignant backdrop for this story about the travails of an aspiring music biz manager — a story substantially less compelling than Hand's own, but involving enough to earn respect on the fest circuit.

That struggling manager is Hand's fictional son Jack (Blake DeLong), who started his career working with Dad only to have that partnership fall apart for mysterious reasons. Now working for a big corporate firm (many disparaging remarks are made about his bosses' deep pockets), Jack works a variety of penny-ante hustles in his attempts to get his two clients (a rock band and a rapper) the gigs and merch sales they deserve.

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When his boss at Intrepid Management insist that he sign his father up with the firm, Jack balks. He quickly realizes, though, that Intrepid cares less about him than he does for them: He's going to be fired if he doesn't mend fences with the old man and convince him to join the roster.

That's complicated by the arrival of Allie (Robyn Rikoon), a young filmmaker staying at the sixtyish singer's home, and possibly sharing his bed, while she shoots a doc on him. Her interviews have been eliciting good stuff, folksy wisdom about songwriting, failure, and the road not taken, and Jack thinks she can help get inside his father's head.

If only the film could spend more time there. James Hand, though hardly a trained actor, has spent a lifetime in honky-tonks training for this role. DeLong can't match him in credibility as an industry-savvy jerk: Scenes of him playing hardball with nightclub bouncers and cutting corners for clients feel only vaguely like the real thing. The generic bottom-line mood back at Intrepid may be a bit more plausible, but it suffers from a focus on the two eye-rolling Millennials coming after Jack's job. A subplot involving James's current manager (he's an auto mechanic on the side) and James's ex-wife deepens things a bit, but is presented as little more than a set of obstacles on Jack's dubious quest to keep a job working for those who drain music of its soul.

Production Company: Clearing A Comma, LLC

Cast: Blake DeLong, James Hand, Robyn Rikoon, Sonny Carl Davis, Jeffery Dashed Johnson

Director-Screenwriter: Matt Muir

Producer: Chris Ohlson

Director of photography: Harrison Witt

Production designer: Caroline Karlen

Editor: Nevie Owens

Sales: Chris Ohlson,

No rating, 85 minutes