MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 18, 2022: THE HATER

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In a world plagued by political polarization and ideological opposition, The Hater is a refreshing reminder of the power of empathy. The story of fiercely idealistic activist Dorothy (writer/director/star Joey Ally) and her crusade against her childhood-tormentor-turned-smarmy-politico Brent (Ian Harding) promotes understanding of both the dismayed outrage of liberal progressives and the staunch independence of born-and-bred conservatives. The resulting comedy is more likely to provoke thoughtful laughter than knee-slapping guffaws.

Dorothy, a veteran campaign worker and speechwriter who cares deeply about climate change and other environmental issues, loses her job when footage from a protest gets her in hot water. She retreats to her small Texas hometown to lick her wounds, bunking with her irascible grandfather, Frank (Bruce Dern), and unsure what to do next. Inspiration strikes when she finds out that her former school-election rival, Brent, a Republican, is the front-runner in the local state legislature race; an election law loophole means that Dorothy can run against him and then drop out if she wins, leaving him high and dry. But the catch is that she has to do it as a Republican herself, something that goes against every planet-hugging bone in her body.

Her campaign takes off when she becomes the inadvertent hero of a mini-mart robbery, and another childhood classmate, Greta (Meredith Hagner), helps her capitalize on her 15 minutes of gun-toting fame. Suddenly Dorothy is everybody’s darling, and it’s an intoxicating experience — but it also fills her with uncertainty and self-doubt. Is she so different from the people she grew up with? Could she actually do some good if she stayed in the election and won? Is it possible for her to find common ground with the Republicans she’s spent most of her life vehemently despising? As her friendship with Greta deepens and she realizes that even someone like Brent might not be entirely past redemption, Dorothy finds herself questioning many of her core beliefs.

And as if all of that wasn’t enough, she’s also still dealing with her grief over her beloved father’s untimely death several years earlier. Ally tackles all of this with a deft touch, skillfully blending humor and drama in a way that keeps things from getting too heavy but also recognizes the weight of the situations and questions that Dorothy is grappling with. The performances in The Hater are genuine, the script is earnest, and the message is clear: If you keep an open mind and try hard enough, you can probably find common ground with just about anyone — and isn’t that something we could all use a little more of? — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Loren King A political comedy that’s smart, empathetic, funny and aces the Bechdel test and then some? Welcome to The Hater, writer/director/star Joey’s Ally’s sharply satirical look at political idealism for the MAGA age. Ally plays Dorothy, a twenty-something progressive speechwriter who gets booted from her DC job, and, humiliated, returns to small town Texas to live with her FOX-watching but benevolent grandfather (Bruce Dern). Dorothy soon comes face to face with her old nemesis Brent, the bully who beat her back in grade school when both were running for class president. The smartest girl in the class ridiculed by the dumbest jock will hit home for everyone still angry about 2016. But Ally plays the too-familiar scenario for sharp satire and gentle humor. The Republican Brent is considered a shoo-in for the state legislature so Dorothy concocts a plan to pose as a conservative and run against him then allow the opposing Democrat to win. Of course things spiral out of control and nothing goes according to plan which allows Ally and the terrific Meredith Hagner as Dorothy’s childhood friend and now earnest campaign manager, to engage in some memorable comic scenes. The script is both pointed but gentle with its targets which allows the audience, along with Dorothy, to discover that assumptions are often wrong and that even gun-loving right-wingers can be human especially if they’re played by the irrepressible Nora Dunn.

Nell Minow: Joey Alley makes a promising debut with The Hater, a movie that addresses political divides with good humor and good will. No character is caricatured or dismissed and, like the main character, audiences may appreciate the reminder that it is a mistake to demonize those who don’t agree with you.

Susan Wloszczyna: Joey Alley is a sort of a one-woman band as she makes her feature directorial debut based on her own original screenplay while starring as the main character in The Hater. As Dorothy Goodwin a California resident, a dedicated environmentalist and a liberal speechwriter on a U.S. Senate campaign who loses her job after al protest about a flag goes wrong. This political comedy layers on such hot-button topics as gun control, abortions, climate change as well as support for our veterans. Dorothy soon realizes that her bullying childhood nemesis Brent (Ian Harding), who beat her when they both campaigned for class president, is now running for State Legislature as a GOP candidate. Read full review.

Marilyn Ferdinand Joey Ally is a quadruple threat as executive producer, lead actor, screenwriter, and first-time feature director of the surprisingly nuanced and warm-hearted comedy The Hater. As deadly earnest progressive crusader Dorothy Goodwin, Ally gives a well-modulated performance that goes from aggressive righteousness to pained vulnerability as she gets reacquainted with her small Texas hometown and finds that its residents don’t fit into the neat, conservative boxes to which she had relegated them. Especially strong is Ally’s co-star Meredith Hagner as Texas belle Greta, who finds her voice and courage working as Dorothy’s campaign manager. Because nothing about this film is simple or expected, The Hater undercuts the social media attitude that gives this movie its ironic title.

Leslie Combemale Sometimes you’ve got to write and direct yourself to get a great role, and that’s what Joey Ally has done with Dorothy, the complicated, not altogether likable character at the center of The Hater. Though she has a long way to go working out her personal demons and she has a stubborn inclination to blame rather than reflect, her metamorphosis and character arc is dramatic, allowing powerful catharsis for the audience that sticks with her. The Hater is a movie that reminds you of the friend you think you barely like, until something they do reminds you that they really are wonderful to have around.

Jennifer Merin The Hater is an impressive first feature from Joey Ally, who wrote, directed, produced the film and also stars as Dorothy, a professional left-leaning political speechwriter and activist who is riddled with righteous rage tempered by self-doubt. When Dorothy loses her job following a personal meltdown at a political event, she retreats from D.C. to her Texas hometown, where she is forced to come to grips with her very strained relationship with her aging grandfather (Bruce Dern) and with her very unsettling memories of being a teenage girl bullied by Brent (Ian Harding), the arrogant and very nasty but most popular boy in school. But the film is a sharply effective comedy, and Dorothy’s road to self-esteem and professional redemption is, as it turns out, fueled by renewed friendships and lined with laughs and endearing moments of silly pleasure. If we need an UP at the moment, Joey Ally’s charming first feature fits the bill.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Writer-director Joey Ally stars in her directorial debut The Hater, an entertaining and surprisingly moderate drama about politics, friendship, and the meaning of crossing the aisle in small-town Texas. It’s bold in this politically divisive time to make a movie about a White, liberal speechwriter who discovers important truths about herself while pretending to be a Republican political candidate in Texas, but Dorothy manages to pull it off by centering friendship over hot-button issues. The movie, which co-stars Bruce Dern as Ally’s protagonist Dorothy’s grandfather and Nora Dunn as a local gun-store owner, highlights Ally’s expressive performance, comic timing, and observational humor. Looking forward to her next project.

Liz Whittemore The Hater plays out against the backdrop of the 2020 election cycle. The dialogue feels incredibly natural, slyly introducing important national platforms. It’s funny and tangible. Beyond the liberal slant, the concept that “we are more alike than we are different” is the major theme. Watching women discuss politics is ceaselessly entertaining. The takedown of toxic masculinity with passion and logic is unmistakable. While you’re not looking, The Hater is predominantly about empowering women. Writer/director/star Joey Ally doesn’t ignore the reality of both parties using dirty tactics. Through moral ambiguity and a whole lot of laughs, I loved every minute of this film. Read full review.

Cate Marquis You would think a film called The Hater might be about a white supremacist or some such but that is not the case in this politically-themed comedy. The hate the title refers to is personal, not political, although politics are part of this clever tale. A left-leaning political speechwriter, Dorothy (Joey Ally, who wrote, directed, produced the film as well as starring), goes too far in her activism and finds herself in hot water with the current campaign she is working on. Hot-headed Dorothy quits in principled outrage, but then finds herself forced to return to her home state of Texas, to move in with her estranged grandfather (Bruce Dern). Casting about for a new political gig, she discovers that her childhood nemesis and bully Brent (Ian Harding) is running for the state legislature as a Republican. She knows the Democratic candidate has no chance against him in her conservative rural district, so she decides to pose as a further-right Republican candidate to “primary” her old enemy. The Hater has a lot of fun with all the political foolery, but also has a lot to say about people, what really matters in local politics, and even about finding common ground.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: The Hater

Director: Joey Ally

Release Date: March 18, 2022

Running Time: 107 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Joey Ally

Distribution Company: Vertical Entertainment

Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).