You’ve already gotten the joke once you’ve read the title of Tone-Deaf, a monotonous horror-comedy that pits a pampered Millennial against a grumpy, murderous Baby Boomer. The Millennial in question is Olive (Amanda Crew), a newly unemployed L.A. hipster who runs afoul of Harvey (Robert Patrick), the liverspots and long underwear clad owner of the secluded house that Olive rents through an AirBnB-type service. Harvey and Olive don’t see (or care) much about how they act (or look) in each other’s eyes, so he assumes she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty while she rolls her eyes and groans about “cultural appropriation when he comes at her with a home-made tomahawk axe. Most of the jokes in “Tone-Deaf” are variations on this gag: Harvey is a sentient fossil while Olive is an entitled brat. “Fine People On Both Sides” might have been a more apt title for this dud.
Writer director Richard Bates Jr. (Excision, Trash Fire) exhaustingly panders to Millennial viewers by making Patrick’s grumpy, fourth-wall-breaking coot spew third-hand received notions about Millennials, like how life is all about hard work and sacrifice and only Boomers see the big picture while hoity-toity Millennials are riding their climate change high horses, but are really a bunch of brunchin’ bimbos, with your skinny margaritas. Patrick delivers these puling asides with enough venom, but his dialogue only proves how desperate Bates is to bait viewers into rooting for Olive, like when he grumbles that he only wants to murder her for ideological reasons: It’s nothing personal it’s not you, it’s just everything you represent. At last, a satire that’s as shallow as our current political moment.
Harvey and Olive are equally uninteresting, even if her self-awareness supposedly makes her more sympathetic. Still, Olive’s at least partly defined by her obnoxious accessories: thick, black plastic frames on her eyeglasses a jersey-style long-sleeve shirt that announces the struggle is real and a personal soundtrack that features an Awkwafina song about how her vag is effortless while “your vag posts ads on Craigslist. I guess irony really is the shackle of youth.
Olive also struggles to connect with her estranged mom Crystal (Kim Delaney), a sassy hippie who demands (and receives) oral sex from a spacey younger man named Uriah (Johnny Pemberton). Crystal is the star of one of the only memorable scenes in Tone Deaf she texts a saucy winky-face emoji to her daughter while she’s doing the mess around with Uriah. This tossed-off joke is unusually funny, possibly because it’s not a product of tired generation gap or Red state/Blue state shtick, like when Olive’s BFF Lenore (Hayley Marie Norman) encourages her to wear her Coastal elitism with pride or when Harvey’s blinkered family friend Agnes (Nancy Linehan Charles) tells Harvey—just before he ties her up and attacks her—that “the good old days weren’t so good for the rest of us.
Bates takes his time in setting up easy targets for his actors to knock down. Crew stands out among the movie’s strong ensemble cast since she brings the most range to her otherwise one-note character. Crew’s performance occasionally reminded me of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless as smarter-than-she-sounds valley girl Cher, especially when Olive turns an anxious prayer into a one-sided guilt trip: And Bola Deposit Pulsa also, don’t forget: You gave me my dad the chemical imbalance which caused him to commit suicide.