Taking advantage of a shared custody arrangement that is soon to be justifiably voided, a divorced father, Wayne (David Sullivan), entertains his young son, Tyler (Cooper J. Friedman), in an unorthodox way. Wayne takes Tyler to the house in which Wayne grew up (they enter the property through a hole in a chain-link fence; nearby hangs a sign reading “Bank Owned”) and imitates the harangues his own abusive, alcoholic father delivered at the ancestral dinner table.
“Small Town Wisconsin,” directed by a Milwaukee native, Niels Mueller, from a script by Jason Naczek, is the story of a man who, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, knows something’s happening but doesn’t know what it is. Tyler’s mom and her new partner are moving West from the working-class suburb in Wisconsin where they live. Wayne is angered and befuddled by this but can’t make a case for himself. This also angers and befuddles him. Of course, he too is an alcoholic.
He contrives a blowout weekend for him and his boy: a trip to Milwaukee and a major-league baseball game. Wayne’s ex insists on a chaperone — which is where Wayne’s best bud, Chuck (Bill Heck), comes in.
Chuck is wary. “I’ve been a part of your failed missions before,” he tells Wayne. The trip goes wrong in a number of ways (one involving Wayne’s lack of credit cards). This forces the guys to take refuge with Wayne’s estranged sister (Kristen Johnston). Who, as you might figure, has some life lessons to impart.
Mueller’s direction is patient and sensitive, the cast is accomplished and committed, and the picture’s comedic aspects sometimes earn a chuckle. But “Small Town Wisconsin” is not sufficiently distinctive to rise above the standard-issue cinematic contemplation of the arguably poignant state of the white male American screw-up.
Small Town Wisconsin
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.