A formula only feels like a formula when it’s not working—and Sam Elliott owns this one in a way that makes it easier not to care. He plays Lee Hayden, an iconic Western actor now spending most of his time stoned or getting occasional gigs as a voice-over pitchman; a hilarious opening segment leans on Elliott’s gravelly drawl repeatedly touting a barbecue sauce. When he gets a likely-terminal cancer diagnosis, he starts shaking up his life, including a relationship with a young woman (Laura Prepon) and attempting to make amends with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter). The role was tailor-made for Elliott by co-writer/director Brett Haley, and the actor also shows a sweet emotional range, selling the obvious subtext in a YA-adaptation blockbuster role for which he’s being considered (running lines with his pot dealer pal, a perfectly Nick Offerman-y Nick Offerman). If the relationship with Prepon feels icky and forced—and the third act conflict between them particularly low-stakes—it’s only because the movie isn’t really about whatever Lee learns about himself. It’s more about the audience learning how great it is to watch Sam Elliott play himself.
Director: Brett Haley
Producer: Houston King, Sam Bisbee, Erik Rommesmo, Jeff Schlossman, Bill Wallwork, David Bunce, Jackie Bisbee, Lance Acord, Theodora Dunlap, Franklin Carson, Danny Rifkin and Frank Brenner
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross, Ali Wong, Cameron Esposito, Doug Cox, Max Gail, Jackie Joyner, Patrika Darbo, Frank Collison, Andy Allo, Linda McBride, Christopher May and Demetrios Saites