Film Review: Small Engine Repair

STUDIO: Vertical Entertainment | DIRECTOR: John Pollono | CAST: John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Jordana Spiro, Ciara Bravo, Ashlie Atkinson, Joshua Bitton
RELEASE DATE: Sept. 10, 2021
SPECS: R | 103 min. | Drama comedy

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie

Toxic masculinity and its discontents are the central focus of John Pollono’s adaptation of his profanity-laced 2011 play Small Engine Repair, about the volatile relationship between three low-life friends situated in “Manch Vegas” aka Manchester, New Hampshire.

Pollono (TV’s This Is Us) makes his directing debut here and plays the lead, Frankie, an ex-con and mechanic whose beloved daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo, Cherry) is about to go off to college and whose ex-girlfriend (Jordana Spiro, TV’s Ozark) proves to be a major pain in his life. Frankie’s pals include ladies man Swaino (the ubiquitous Jon Bernthal, Ford v Ferrari)  and tech-obsessed Packy (Shea Whigham, Joker). After splitting apart following a nasty barroom brawl, the trio reunites months later, but Frankie now has something up his sleeve that proves to be a surprise to everyone.  Invited to join the group at Frankie’s shop is Chad (Spencer House, Space Force), a spoiled 19-year-old drug dealer. To tell anything else about this awkward situation would be revealing major spoilers.

The obvious models for Small Engine Repair‘s muy macho dialogue and posturing are the works of David Mamet and Neil LaBute. Pollono opens his play up with disturbing flashbacks and limited location work (filmed mostly in Tappan, New York) and also fuses the serious proceedings with some off-putting dark humor, barbs about social media and reminisces about Boston Red Sox lore for New England color. Not surprisingly, the dialogue is loaded with raw sexual references in line with the randy principals and their inarticulate manner.

Small Engine Repair starts off in an intense way and tightens its grip even further as it goes along. While  Pollono wears his Mamet and LaBute influences on his sleeve, he impresses with his handling of edgy material and eliciting strong performances from his first-rate cast.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.