8 November 2012 | StevePulaski
Sam is a character who hates the idea of growing up, and, even as he approaches his mid-thirties, he clings onto the idea that he is a musician that will get his big break any minute from now. His ideology is the kind teenagers exiting high school or entering college possess, but then go onto approach a life-realization that they're living in a fantasy. Sam hasn't received such an awakening, and this makes for the perfect coming of age film centered on a character that solemnly loathes the idea.
Sam is played by Mark Duplass, who, consistent readers will know, is quickly becoming one of my favorite male leads. After getting kicked out by his girlfriend, Sam crashes at his aunt's home in upstate Seattle (Melissa Leo) where she lives with her teenage son Oliver (Bret Loehr). When her divorced husband calls off the camping trip between him and Oliver, Sam feels almost obligated to take his dad's place and, after some convincing by his aunt, reluctantly takes Oliver and his best friend Jake (Carr Thompson) on a replacement camping trip.
In a Hollywood film, the formula that would prove prophetic is that the three would be met with The Great Outdoors-style problems, wreak havoc on mother nature, have their actions prove reckless and almost inconsequential to nature and man, and walk away learning just about nothing. Thankfully, this is not a Hollywood film. It's a subtle, successful merge between a "mainstream" independent movie and the grassroots of comprehensive mumblecore (another recent example of the hybrid would be Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed).
Mumblecore is often characterized by the naturalistic flow of its dialog and the inherent messiness of its videography and editing. Here, it has that polished look, while maintaining naturalistic dialog executed wonderfully by actors lacking a household name (with the possible exception of Leo). By the middle of the second half, I felt I kind of knew were this was going, yet was still liking every minute of it. It is then the film introduces an unexpectedly daring twist that catches one off-guard and ushers in a plethora of story possibilities, resulting in a pleasant maturity for the cast and crew. Writer Craig Johnson doesn't cop out when the going gets tough, but forces his characters to buckle down and grow up within the last half hour of the film.
True Adolescents brilliantly showcases the maturity of a genre and its characters, by, as always, giving them a brutally honest slice of life and utilizing small events as the film's main conflicts. The character actors are wonderful, the scenery of the Olympic Peninsula is gorgeous, the scenery, especially in the woods, is thrilling and inviting, and all of this makes for a wonderfully earnest debut from writer Craig Johnson, who may rank next to the Duplass brothers, Andrew Bujalski, and Lynn Shelton as the best mumblecore directors in the business.
Starring: Mark Duplass, Bret Loehr, and Carr Thompson. Directed by: Craig Johnson.