Billed as a dramedy, director Jody Hill’s The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter follows the exploits of a “famous” hunter named Buck Ferguson (Josh Brolin), his faithful cameraman Don (Danny McBride), and his son Jaden (Montana Jordan). For years, Buck was known for his cheesy – yet, apparently lucrative – hunting videos. He and Don would go galivanting across the US in search of Whitetail Deer, often leaving their families and significant others alone for months at a time. Because of this (and his recent divorce), Buck hasn’t had the time to develop a great relationship with Jaden. All hope isn’t lost though. Thanks to his filming schedule coinciding with a purposed father and son hunting trip, Buck will finally be able to spend some quality time with his son.
The father and son camping/hunting/rite of passage trip is a familiar premise. The issues Buck and Jaden face are typical. Buck’s overreliance on Jaden killing his first deer to cement a bond through a shared love of hunting is flawed from the beginning. What happens if he doesn’t get lucky? Will Buck wait for the next trip to get it right? Making matters worse is how clueless he is of his son’s desires. It’s not suspiring (to the audience) that Jaden would rather talk to his girlfriend on his cell phone than wait patiently in a deer stand with his father. Again, typical. What shakes things up though, is Don’s presence. The need to record a new hunting video adds an interesting wrinkle to Buck and Jaden’s developing relationship; it’s difficult to share meaningful moments with a kid when they’re interrupted by a product endorsement.
So, the stage is set. We have a familiar premise that makes what happens on screen easy to digest for fans of the genre. At the same time, there is a newish element in the filmmaking aspect that could be used to create hilarious moments or drama-infused segments. This should be a win for all involved. Unfortunately, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter doesn’t seem to be written in a way that would deliver the heartfelt narrative it alludes to. It isn’t void of charm. The interactions between Buck and his son are great when they’re dealing with their differences in age. It’s made apparent that Jaden is from another era when he starts vlogging his trip via his cell phone, resulting in the bewilderment and disdain of his father.
The plot really matures when Buck is faced with the possibility of his ex-wife remarrying someone and how Jaden might choose to address them (father, step-father, etc.) in the future. It would have been smart to dive into these topics and really explore how bad things have gotten for these characters. The problem is that the writers seemed to be chained to providing a humorous hunting experience, to the detriment of any potential drama.
This isn’t a bad idea on paper as the comedic moments would have given the audience a means of overlooking the film’s shallowness; it’s easier to go along with an undeserved positive outcome when you’re expected to laugh at the silly happenings on screen. The thing is, The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer is hardly ever funny. I counted two humorous scenes, one of which had me in tears. But for the other 80-odd minutes, there was nothing worth cracking a smile for. And that’s not me being snobbish to the type of comedy presented – there weren’t that many jokes, period. Even worse, the random nature of Buck’s hunting film was poorly utilized. Instead of providing a few laughs or a point of contention between him and Jaden, its narrative impact is almost completely negated, which is a shame given what a cool plot device it was at the start.
I’m not sure if the goal was to satirize supposed American values, tell a coming of age story, just entertain with a lose form of comedy or all of the above. My confusion helps this film in that I’m hesitant to be as critical as I’d like to be. What I can say is that it doesn’t succeed in telling a heartwarming story due to how the writers gloss over important narrative threads. It also fails at being comical. Not because the jokes aren’t funny (they mostly aren’t) but because only a few gags were written into the script. And while I wouldn’t call The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter boring, it certainly isn’t compelling enough to compete with other dramas on Netflix. This changes somewhat if you can identify with Buck’s plight or hunting in general. Still, there are probably other films worth watching regardless of how you feel about white-tailed deer!