Amy George (Directors: Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas): Toward the end of this quietly resonant film, 13-year-old Jesse’s mother tells him about a time when he was a child that his parents thought they had lost him, but that they knew to just look up: “You came down from the trees like a monkey turning into a man.”
And although it’s a rare case where the writing feels a tiny bit forced, it just might sum up this intimate slice of adolescent life. It’s a glimpse, a snapshot of a man in the process of formation. And it’s all the more remarkable because the average age of the cast and crew must be somewhere around 20. Director/writers Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas are very recent (2008) film school graduates, and the film’s executive producer is 15-year-old actor Connor Jessup.
“Write what you know” is good advice for writers and Lewis and Thomas certainly are not so far removed from the small terrors of adolescence. And newcomer Gabrielle Del Castillo Mulally is stuck right in the middle of them, ensuring that his constant expression of puzzlement comes from a genuine place.
Jesse is the son of well-meaning but flaky liberal parents (ex-Rheostatics drummer Don Kerr and his real-life spouse, author Claudia Dey) who are navigating a frightening new stage of parenting in which neither of them seems able to communicate with their son. Mother Sabi nags Jesse to eat his vitamins but wonders to her husband whether he might be gay, or unpopular at school. It’s the stage where taking care of your kids seems to become exponentially more complicated than just making sure they’re fed and clothed and sheltered.
In reality, Jesse has lots of friends, even a close female friend, but he also seems to enjoy spending time by himself. When an art teacher’s assignment requires him to take a photograph that represents some aspect of himself, he convinces his parents to buy him an “analog” camera and a telephoto lens.
He also takes an offhand remark from his teacher about being a “true artist” so literally that he checks out a book from the library called “True Artist” in which the male author says definitively that no man can be a true artist until he has made love to a woman.
Throwing this “advice” into the churning stew of Jesse’s adolescent sexual awakening leads him into some murky territory; namely, up a tree across from his slightly older neighbour Amy George’s room, where he snaps a picture of her. A few days later, the two are thrown together in unusual circumstances. After sneaking some alcoholic coolers from the fridge, and some experiments with hypnotism, Jesse finds himself tempted to go further than ever before in his sexual explorations on a passed out Amy.
In one of the film’s best scenes, he confesses his feelings of guilt to an older female family friend, who assures him he’s likely done nothing wrong, and that these things are more complicated than he thinks.
It’s barely an epiphany, but the film contains a few of them, making us feel that Jesse, despite his continued wide-eyed bewilderment, is on his way.
It’s a remarkably self-assured debut for the filmmakers, and though there are a few rough spots technically (shaky camera, less than perfect sound, a few uneven performances from the supporting players) and a bit of shapelessness to the story, it adds up to a satisfying experience. And it makes me happy to add another couple of young Canadian filmmakers to my radar.