Early on in The Automatic Hate, one of the characters poses a question about nature vs. nurture. It’s an age-old proverb, but his answer is simple: Essentially, both of them are bullshit. What follows shows that regardless of which actually matters more, if the influence is anything other than pristine, those involved are going to be stuck dealing with the same thing: A lot of bullshit.
Justin Lerner’s movie focuses on Davis (Joseph Cross), a chef working in Boston who is approached by Alexis (Adelaide Clemens), a girl armed with a claim that they’re cousins. At first, Davis doesn’t believe her, as someone would when they’ve been told their father is an only child. But after the thought sticks with him for a few days, he finally finds out that his father does indeed have a brother, and he goes off to meet his cousins and aunt and uncle. From there, a plot to reunite the families forms, but all without knowing what terrible thing pulled the two brothers so far apart.
Clemens is tasked with playing a confused, slightly deranged, yet sad character, and she hits every beat within that wide range of emotion with expert skill. For some, she may be considered the villain of the story, and to others, she could be regarded as a hero. For a character to be so far from black and white is a tribute to both her performance and the writing from Lerner and Katharine O’Brien.
The same could be said for Cross’ Davis, as well. I could see someone fully siding with the character or finding his outlook and the majority of his actions disgraceful. He’s another character who’s very much in the middle of just about any spectrum, and that makes him so much more interesting to watch. Every character has a depth that you might not expect just from hearing the most basic synopsis of the film, but that’s part of the beauty of it. A simple family mystery story becomes so complex so subtly that it almost blindsides you when it’s fully escalated.
The film weaves through uncomfortable themes, bitter people and what some would consider to be despicable actions, yet there’s hardly ever a moment where all the characters don’t remain likable. I don’t mean “all the characters” as a generality, either. I mean that every single one of the core characters remains likable for almost the entirety of the movie. That’s a major accomplishment for a film dealing with this type of story.
To portray a completely taboo romance, but manage to make it something that a viewer can not only accept, but actually maybe want to happen, is a major achievement. And it’s achieved by focusing on the realistic characters that have been created in the world of the film. They’re humans. Some of them could be considered very messed up humans, but humans you care for nonetheless. Just like real people (even the most likable of real people), they have their flaws.
Adding to the impact of the story, the film is beautifully and meticulously shot. Every ounce of frame seems to be maximized, making for a visual feast to rival the food that Davis prepares. The scene where Davis serves a meal for nine is shot in a more dramatic way than anything else, which at first seems like a peculiar decision, but is so captivating and sets up what comes next so well that it’s really nothing short of brilliant.
Some of my favorite movies are ones where I find myself wanting to be like the characters. Despite the fact that I really would rather not end up like any of the characters in The Automatic Hate, it’s a film that resonates in a way that’s nearly as powerful. It’s a honest and heartfelt look at the lines that society draws and the consequences of crossing them. Really, it’s not as important where those lines come from, or where our behavior originates. What matters is how people react and behave.
In the end, both nature and nurture seem to be relevant. And both of them seem to be bullshit.
The Automatic Hate touches on uncomfortable themes, taboo actions, and harsh people, and through that it finds a way to be a wildly enjoyable film.