A Quirky Love Letter To Theater Kids Everywhere

Quirky, funny, and occasionally heartfelt, Noam Tomaschoff's new indie film Tankhouse is an ode to self-expression and theater kids everywhere. This is a movie that is willing to lean into the silliness of its main characters' sensibilities, but also acknowledges the real heart thrumming underneath it all. While the over-the-top nature of the "art" on display might turn off some audience members, Tankhouse is in on the joke enough to make it easy for others to come along for the ride. What Tankhouse lacks in certain areas of character development, it makes up for with genuine laughs and a delightfully eccentric approach to its artsy story.

Avant-garde performers Tucker (Stephen Friedrich) and Sandrene (Tara Holt) are the most extreme type of actors: They believe in true, deep artistic expression above all else, and anything remotely commercial is seen as selling out. Their lives are in New York, but when a performance gone wrong results in them being blacklisted by their company head (Christopher Lloyd), the pair heads to Sandrene's hometown of Fargo to participate in a competition. The winner gets control of the local theater. However, when Sandrene's former teacher (Richard Kind) proves to be a formidable opponent, Tucker and Sandrene's relationship is tested in new ways as they fight to create a theatrical revolution with an inexperienced cast.

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Tankhouse starts out on a whimsical note, with an animated opening conveying how Tucker and Sandrene came to be partners. It gives the film a creative edge early on and quickly eases the audience into this world of "high art." Tucker and Sandrene favor a very physical form of theater wherein they use their entire bodies (often clad in skintight suits) and move freely among the audience, pulling them into the piece as well. This outlandish style of performing lends itself well to comedy, though Tankhouse also finds humor through other means. For example, the sound department skillfully weaves in silly little effects for viewers to catch, giving the overall action an extra layer of fun.

Of the two main characters, Tucker is more passionate about the capital-A Art he creates, while Sandrene has more familiar dreams in television. Tankhouse doesn't shy away from this, as Tomaschoff's script (co-written by Chelsea Frei) actually dives into Sandrene's conflicted desires. It's easy to root for her here, especially because Holt balances the absurd with the realistic very well. As for Tucker, he comes off as far less sympathetic. Freidrich gives his all to Tucker's controlling and pretentious attitude, but the script doesn't give him much sympathy until the very end, when it is said he's undergone some development that isn't shown. Main characters don't have to be likeable, but it is hard to support Tucker. Tankhouse has some moments of real drama with Tucker and Sandrene's evolving relationship and the surprise outing of a young gay couple, but it doesn't always give these beats the development and gravity they deserve.

Nevertheless, when Tankhouse has fun, it is a lot of fun. It brings the stakes of an amateur theater competition to action movie levels, as seen through a moment where Tucker engages in a "Major General-off" with Kind's surprisingly malevolent theater teacher. The two have to recite Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major General Song" from The Pirates of Penzance in a rap battle-like showdown, and Tomaschoff does not shy away from the sheer absurdity of the moment. This makes Tankhouse's overall plot easy to buy into, since the movie itself gives the competition — and Tucker and Sandrene's hopes — the respect it deserves. It also helps that the entire ensemble is game and ready to dig into the silliness. Of the new theater group's core cast, Devere Rogers is hilarious as a strangely spiritual artist, and Sarah Yarkin, as the shy tech head, has a small, but satisfying arc of her own that helps her stand out from the rest.

Tankhouse might not be for everyone with its outlandish humor, but if viewers are willing to invest in the absurdity, then it's worth watching. Tomaschoff has clearly created this movie out of respect for anyone who has loved spending time in the theater, and with a game cast ready to shoulder the material, it becomes something very sweet underneath all the quirk. Some areas are a bit too slight for their own good, but there is enough to enjoy that the issues are easy to forgive — mostly.

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Tankhouse released in theaters on Friday, May 13. It is 94 minutes long and rated R for some sexual references.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)
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Rachel Labonte (3436 Articles Published)

Rachel LaBonte is one of Screen Rant's core news editors, as well as a feature and movie review writer. A graduate of Emerson College, she majored in Media Arts Production while specializing in screenwriting. She's been a writer ever since high school when she realized she was rather good at it and joined as many entertainment news clubs as she could while in school. Most notably, she wrote for Emerson's website Emertainment Monthly, and one of her film reviews won an Evvy (Emerson's student awards) for Best Review. Her deep love of movies led to her working at a movie theater for five years, which she loved despite the angry customers. An avid reader who constantly buys books before reading the ones she already owns, Rachel is a huge fan of superheroes (especially of the Marvel variety) and wizards and will likely never be able to catch up on all the movies/TV shows she longs to watch.

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