‘The Hater’ Has an Earnest Heart

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 showed that real life had become more like a season of television than ever before. Two years into Joe Biden’s presidency — and in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection — our identity as citizens in this country has become increasingly fragmented from each other. What is best for our communities has fallen to the wayside as it has become harder to find common ground. So when The Hater — written, directed and acted by the multi-talented Joey Ally — finally ended and credits began to roll, I finally realized what had been missing in so many other pieces of media about politics in the world of Fake News and political team sports. 

The Hater’s opening minutes provide a hilarious grounding for its story. We follow Dorothy, played by Joey Ally, a born again Democrat and speechwriter who gets fired from her senator’s campaign after video footage of her accidentally burning an American flag goes viral on social media. With nowhere else to go, Dorothy moves back to Alabaster, Texas where she finds out her grade school bully Brent, played by Ian Harding, is running as a Republican for the State’s legislature.

Fueled by revenge to take Brent out of the race and give the Democratic Party an easy win, Dorothy discovers a legal loophole that would allow her to run as a Republican in the primary against him. As Dorothy’s campaign begins to pick up steam in the community and the weight of responsibility begins to get heavier, she must reckon with the morality of her crusade and what it actually means to be a political representative of her community before it’s too late.  

Joey Ally carefully crafts that feeling of community within the film’s scenes and writing. Alabaster is never treated like a town that would be made fun of for being conservative, instead its given time be seen as human. From the direct dialogue of characters discussing the hardships the town has, establishing shots populated with the townsfolk living their lives, to debates on what is actual at stake for voting someone in office, the film forces Dorothy — and by extension the audience — to recognize just how similar we are when you strip away the veneer of team politics.  Every character’s motivation and ideology comes from an honest place and provides understanding to how they have come to see the world as they do. 

This deliberate focus of viewer empathy extends to the film’s more expressionist approach to emotionally charged moments. From stark color grading to fast paced jump cuts, Josie Azzam’s editing illustrates the overwhelming emotion that Dorothy is trapped in and gives a unique look into her internal thought process. These moments provided an enjoyably frantic experience I wish was more freely experimented in the film, but instead becomes jarring sequences out of step with the rest of the film’s pacing and more realistic color grading. These issues of expressive reservation bleeds into the film’s final act that wraps up its side plots too neatly instead of providing a more layered approach that the film had crafted up to that point. 

The Hater is a respectable directorial debut that has more to say about how we see each other in society than it has to say about politics. Its strength comes from the passion worn on its sleeve compared to other films that fail to tackle similar matters. Its struggle to provide a strong ending for all of its plots doesn’t compromise the strength of the film’s message. I, for one, think it’s a beautiful reminder of its earnest heart.