Sometimes the coolest thing in the world is to take a kicking. This low-key debut from Felix Thompson, which won the Audience Award at last year’s Tribeca, undercuts teen movie tropes in its brief running time.
With his dirty t-shirt torn at the collar, a haircut he must have attempted himself, and a cold sore on his lip, Jack (a wonderfully touching turn from Plummer, Boardwalk Empire) isn’t your typical teen movie outsider. Subverting the genre’s more typical traditions, neither is he secretly smart or heroic or boasts a hitherto undiscovered talent that’s going to take him away from his backwater Hudson Valley, New York town - the kind of oppressive place of grey skies, busted televisions in three-wheeled shopping trollies left abandoned in the street, and Stars and Stripes hanging from porches.
Fifteen-year-old Jack is cool but not in the conventional sense. He doesn’t take the beatings handed out by local thug Shane (Doherty) and his mates lying down despite their size: we first see him scrawling ‘c**t’ in giant letters across the doors of Shane’s garage; we can only assume it’s his revenge from yet another humbling episode at the hands of his enemy. Brother Tom (Michael Madsen’s son, Christian) is too caught up with gambling debts to notice what’s happening his baby brother and mum (Erin Davie) is too busy scurrying about paying bills. Mooching around, Jack is given something to do when twelve-year-old cousin Ben (Nichols) comes to stay and the kid becomes the unlikely source of a catalyst that forces a showdown between Jack and Danny…
Thompson’s style is a hazy summer one, not unlike Daniel Patrick Carbone’s slow-burning Hide Your Smiling Faces. He’s not that interested in an active narrative either, preferring to just hang out with Jack as he suffers humiliation when the girl he’s sexting (Scarlet Lisbeth) shows her friends the nude pictures of himself he sends her, or tossing stones with Ben, or drinking cans and playing truth-or-dare with Harriet (Ynoa) and her friend. Getting down to business of an actual plot feels like a distraction for Thompson, who probably wants to reminisce about these long days and lazy evenings of youth.
It is perhaps a little stark story wise (it’s a bit stretched at even eighty minutes) but this little gem is more about instilling a feeling which is tough to shift after the credits roll. What that feeling is will depend on one’s own experiences of being fifteen.