Browbeaten by brother Tom (Christian Madsen) and bullied by classmate Shane (Danny Flaherty), 15 year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer) is torn between dream girl Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth) and galpal Harriet (Yainis Ynoa).
From Our Gang through Andy Hardy to the Brat Pack and beyond, moviegoers have been fascinated by kids getting into scrapes. But despite being endlessly revisited, the coming-of-age format retains its freshness and relevance because each new generation is able to impart its own spin on the clichés and caricatures. Felix Thompson's debut feature therefore feels enticingly different from all those other dramas in which a socially awkward outsider learns to stand up to the bullies and tell the difference between the mean class queen and the pretty girl next door.
It's enticingly different from all those other dramas in which an awkward outsider learns to stand up to the bullies.
As his opening graffiti salvo suggests, Charlie Plummer isn't a hapless nerd. But he chooses friends and enemies unwisely and it's only when he's asked to entertain visiting cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) that he begins to wise up. Thompson builds Plummer's redemption around such staples as the backyard baseball game, a Truth Or Dare session, a house party and a showdown with a bully. All familiar elements, but nothing entirely conforms to type and, consequently, the deftly timed flashes of wit, affection and violence feel dislocatingly unexpected.
The guitar score is a touch twee, the camerawork a bit self-consciously jerky, but the performances are as soundly judged as Thompson's assured sense of place and perspective. Plummer and Nichols are particularly impressive. The scenes in which they get to know each other (while throwing stones), where Ben gives Jack the cold shoulder after he abandons his cousin to the mercy of the menacing Shane are flecked with an unassuming naturalism that gives this a universality that extends way beyond Anytown, USA.
An atmospheric rite of passage that suggests big things lie ahead for its writer-director and young cast.