SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Review; "Thought-Provoking, Darkly Funny, And Completely Unmissable"

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Review; "Thought-Provoking, Darkly Funny, And Completely Unmissable"

Small Engine Repair is an adaptation of the award-winning play, but how does John Pollono's big screen take on his own work stack up as a movie? This is something special, so find our verdict right here...

With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings now playing in theaters, we’re in store for what looks to be a relatively uneventful month for big screen releases. However, there are some gems to be found, and among them is Small Engine Repair, filmmaker John Pollono’s film adaptation of his award-winning play (it arrives in theaters Friday, September 10). As well as writing and directing, he also stars in the movie alongside a superb cast that includes Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), Shea Whigham (Joker), and Ciara Bravo (Cherry), and to call this a film of the year contender would be an understatement. 

It’s hard to divulge too much about the plot without heading into spoiler territory, but we pick up with Frankie (Pollono), Swaino (Bernthal), and Packie (Whigham) on a typical whiskey-fueled evening that soon takes a dark turn when the latter two are asked to do a favour for a woman they all care deeply about. At times a dark comedy, at others, a haunting, hard-hitting drama, Small Engine Repair sees Pollono deftly balance these tonal shifts to deliver a story that just...works. At times, it probably shouldn’t, especially with [spoiler warning!] a jaw-dropping twist that changes everything preceding it (some might see it coming thanks to one too many cues setting the stage for the reveal beforehand, but the fallout makes up for any predictable elements). However, that’s far from the only thing that makes this movie unique. With a weaker screenplay, the big reveal and where things go from there could have been all Small Engine Repair would be remembered for, but there’s really so much more to be found here. 
 


The bond between the three men feels shockingly real, and whether it’s a joke that goes a step too far or a cleverly pieced together flashback to their childhood, this movie wastes no time in getting us invested in their dynamic. Beyond Pollono’s expert direction, much of the credit for this should go to both him as a performer and the astonishing work we see from his co-stars. Whether it’s Swaino recounting his exploits as a single man enjoying the good life or the surprising way Packie views the world, these actors make us believe in the characters they’re playing, and, if you were to tell us they’d also been friends since childhood in real-life, we’d believe you. They’re all nothing short of extraordinary, while Jordana Spiro, Spencer House, and Bravo, in particular, all shine in supporting roles. 

Over the course of a little over an hour and forty minutes, Small Engine Repair manages to deliver its fair share of laughs, but Pollono’s screenplay does a superb job of making you think twice about the context the gags are being told in and whether you should really be laughing at them. Each of these men is damaged in some way after a rough life in Manchester, New Hampshire, but they’re by no means bad, and it’s when they’re taken to those darker places that we see what they’re really made of. A fascinating character study, the movie also leaves you with plenty to think about, particularly when it comes to the impact of toxic masculinity in different generations (modern technology and social media ends up playing an unexpectedly interesting role here). 

It’s rare we get to see a playwright adapt their own work to film, but Pollono creates so much more than just a “Hollywood-ised” version of what he once brought to the stage. For a relatively small scale film, Small Engine Repair boasts some big ideas and feels incredibly ambitious. Overall, it’s a special piece of filmmaking, and one that we really can’t recommend highly enough. 

Small Engine Repair is a powerful piece of filmmaking from director John Pollono that features tour-de-force performances from its leads in a movie that’s thought-provoking, darkly funny, and completely unmissable. 

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