This little movie won the ol’ audience award at Tribeca, which I guess is sort of neat because it happened to be one of the movies I saw. But! I have to admit I wasn’t the biggest fan.
It’s not a bad movie. The actors in it are really great, and unassuming, and the grime on the kids feels real and earned. In a coming-of-age story in this day and age, that authenticity is really appreciated. But I couldn’t shake the fact that the entire flick was trying to shove poignancy in my face. Coming-of-age movies have been done and done and overdone, and I feel like I’ve seen them all, even though I most definitely haven’t. I’m also a sucker for well-done heartfelt moments in cinema involving kids (the long-winded way of saying “coming-of-age stories”), which is why it’s a little odd that this one didn’t quite gel with me. I have a theory, though.
As I mentioned, the acting was fantastic. The titular Jack, played by Charlie Plummer, is as charismatic as he can be, even with a terrible haircut and an even worse attitude. He’s the kind of kid that you wish would just “get it” one day, and get the hell out of his constricting small town. But his head is too big, and his focus is too small, and so instead it becomes a frustrating, sad experience to watch a kid dig himself deeper into a hole that he won’t be able to climb out of. Jack’s life is very insular; he lives in a small town, is bullied by really infuriating, perpetual assholes, and has a mother Who Can Only Do So Much. This is a story you’ve heard and seen before. I’d heard it and seen it, too, and after awhile I just didn’t want to watch it for the umpteenth time, no matter how stellar Plummer was.
Jack gets a brief glance into an outside world—not the—when his cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) pays a visit. Ben arguably has it worse than Jack, but Ben doesn’t have the egotistical streak to act out about it, either. The two of them bicker as boys do, which is to say that they don’t communicate that much, and when they do, it gets heated. They also have positive effects on each other; as you might be able to predict, Ben’s demeanor rubs off on Jack, and he learns to cool down his hot-headedness. Jack’s confidence oozes into Ben, and he stands up for himself in situations he wouldn’t have before. It’s nice to see them both change.
The movie covers such a small window of time, however, and such a narrow fraction of these kids’ lives, that it’s impossible to have that “good feeling” you get at the end of a movie when you see a character change. I left the movie doubting that Jack and Ben would really remember what they’d taught each other. I also left the movie doubting their future success in life. We saw Jack hanging around girls, but we didn’t get to see what he was interested in outside of dicking around with them and shooting his mouth off at other people. And every kid has some sort of interest. I had no reason to really, truly root for Jack (or Ben) because neither of them gave me a real reason to. Perhaps the poignancy was meant to lie in how unfortunate or hopeless their situations were. When the lesson’s that futile, I don’t want to learn it.