When it comes to depicting the inner lives of adolescents, writer-director Michael Cuesta might be the most fearless U.S. filmmaker working today. His 2001 debut, L.I.E., not only faced prostitution among teenage boys head on, but dared to depict a predatory pedophile as something far more complex than a soulless monster. Cuesta's second feature is even...read more
When it comes to depicting the inner lives of adolescents, writer-director Michael Cuesta might be the most fearless U.S. filmmaker working today. His 2001 debut, L.I.E., not only faced prostitution among teenage boys head on, but dared to depict a predatory pedophile as something far more complex than a soulless monster. Cuesta's second feature is even more accomplished and, in some regards, even more shockingly honest: Here, the lives of three suburban 12-year-olds are changed in different, often unexpected ways after a close companion is accidentally killed in a stupid prank. Rudy Carges (Conor Donovan) and his overweight friend, Leonard Fisher (Jesse Comacho), are sound asleep in their tree house one summer night when two neighborhood bullies, unaware that anyone's inside, toss a lit Molotov cocktail through the window. Rudy is killed in the fire, but Leonard manages to escape, suffering a serious blow to his head that bizarrely deprives him of his sense of taste. Rudy's brother, Jacob (Donovan, in a dual role), an identical twin save for the grape-colored birthmark that covers half of his face, is determined to confront the tragedy head on. Unbeknownst to his grieving father (Linus Roache) and grieving, unforgiving mother (the excellent Jayne Atkinson), Jacob swallows his fear and begins making regular trips to the juvenile detention center where his brother's killers have been sentenced. Leonard, meanwhile, begins to exercise and eat healthily — his failure to taste anything makes a steady diet of nothing but fruits and vegetables easier to stomach — but this indirect reaction to Rudy's death upsets Leonard's obese mother (Marcia DeBonis) who confuses motherly love with overfeeding. Leonard, however, takes it all one step too far when he attempts to recruit his mother into his new health regime by force. And then there's Malee (pint-sized firecracker Zoe Weizenbaum), the daughter of a divorced psychotherapist (Annabella Sciorra) who fixates on one of her mother's clients, Gus (DAHMER's Jeremy Renner), a former firefighter who's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Listening in on one of her mother's sessions with Gus, Malee learns the details of his recurring nightmare, which she then uses to prove to him that she's his soul mate, albeit one young enough to be his daughter. Aside from its frank consideration of preteen sexuality, the most daring thing about Cuesta's extraordinary film is its willingness to put honest, intelligent dialogue in the mouths of kids. The deeply disturbing ending might not be to everyone's taste, but it says more than most American films about how the scars we form during childhood can determine the shape of the adults we become. The haunting soundtrack includes music by Pierre Folds and, in one marvelous scene, Blue Oyster Cult.