26 March 2009 | larry-411
A winning, sweet little American indie
On Saturday, March 14, I attended the World Premiere of "True Adolescents" at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.
As a journalist concentrating on independent films, my Holy Grail is what I like to call the "sweet little American indie." This is writer/director Craig Johnson's first feature and he's hit the mark.Sam (Mark Duplass) is a 30-something rocker who never quite grew out of his teenage years. He's unkempt, unfocused, and unsure of who he is or wants to be. In other words, he has a lot in common with his 14-year-old cousin Oliver (Bret Loehr) and friend Jake (Carr Thompson). When changing circumstances in Oliver's home life force the unlikely trio to head off on an unplanned camping trip together, they are forced to grow in ways they never imagined. "True Adolescents" is filled with twists and turns and "whoa" moments -- the kinds which are made more powerful by knowing as little about the film going in as possible.
There is so much to love about this film. It has the look and feel of a true indie, using ambient sound and natural light when possible. Much of the film takes place outdoors and at night -- a challenging situation for photography -- and cinematographer Kat Westergaard makes the most of what nature offers her. Hand-held camera is used quite a bit, especially during scenes where the boys/men are traipsing through the wilderness of the gorgeous Washington State coastline. One can almost feel the chill as the sun goes down. Water always looks good on camera, and there is no denying a "Mean Creek" feel to the film.
Duplass is quickly becoming one of our brightest young stars in the indie universe. As his aunt Sharon (Oliver's mom), Melissa Leo is as radiant and lovingly protective of her children as she was in her award-winning performance in "Frozen River." But, most of all, this is a coming-of-age film and (besides Sam himself) the experience of becoming an adult centers primarily on the two young actors Bret Loehr and Carr Thompson. Relative newcomers to the business, the boys were actually the ages of the characters they were portraying (14-15). How refreshing not to see a 20-something caked with stage makeup to look 16. The boys took risks, both emotional and physical, which would challenge actors twice their age.
As a character-driven film, "True Adolescents"shines because of their natural talents, but the real impact of the film lies in Johnson's powerful script and its ability to resonate with viewers. This brilliantly crafted story is filled with images that will stay with you long after leaving the theater.