Not-So-Quick Movie Review: True Adolescents (2009)

I realize I’ve been talking a lot lately about why I’m watching a movie. I think it’s interesting the ways we get to the entertainment choices we make. I’ve got a lot more time than most people I know to watch things, so I don’t consider my movie-watching time as valuable which means I’m more likely to try different things than I would otherwise. Take True Adolescents for instance. I became a big fan of Mark Duplass after seeing him in The League, which lead me to check out one of the movies he made with his brother Jay The Puffy Chair. I was then lead to True Adolescents by Netflix based on the previous movies I’ve watched. I’m glad they did because I’m not sure if I would have even heard of this movie otherwise.

Much like Puffy Chair, this one stars Duplass as a an immature adult, Sam, who wants to hang on to his adolescent dreams. He doesn’t have a job-job, his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s in a band that plays for a handful of people at a bar. The first third or fourth of the movie just shows his life and soon gets him to his aunt’s house. Said aunt is played by the amazing Melissa Leo and also has a teenage son Oliver who’s kind of a jerk. We’re introduced to him as he throws a squid meant for dissection at a girl in his class. Turns out that Oliver’s estranged father was supposed to take him and his pal Jake on a camping trip, but flaked out, so Sam eventually agrees to take them.

The trip to camping and the actual experience in the woods/on the beach (they’re in Washington, so I guess that’s a thing that makes sense) makes up the real meat of the story as the boys not only explore their relationship with girls and each other and Sam gets a taste at some real responsibility in watching over a pair of teenagers. In a relatively short period of time–the movie has an 88 minute run time–writer and director Craig Johnson does an excellent job going through the characters’ stories without being super obvious and “movie” about everything.

Here’s an example that gets into some spoiler territory, so if you want to go into the movie completely clear, skip this paragraph. There are hints during their travels to the camping area that Jake might be gay or at least questioning his sexuality including a somewhat confusing scene where he stops making out with a girl in a pool to swim over and start wrestling with Oliver who was also making out with a girl in said pool. There’s a quick moments where Sam opens the boys’ tent and they’re kissing. This event spurs on the rest of the movie from that point, but I was really impressed with how it was handled. In a clunkier movie you would have seen a whole scene between the boys leading up to this, but none of that is necessary.

In a way, the movie reminded me of Cold Weather which I didn’t like. They both have main characters who could be considered averse to responsibility, but Duplass pulls off this kind of role with a confident brashness that makes me like him instead of annoyed with him. Both films also take advantage of the beautiful scenery in the shooting area, but while Cold Weather simply shows you these scenes, True uses the environnents for the purpose of the scene and builds the story around them (or at least the second half). That way, you get both the beauty and actual story instead of stopping the latter for the former.

So, to put it simply and state the obvious, I really dug True Adolescents. It showcased it’s players really well and also showed an economy of story that fit very well with the tone of the film. Plus, kind of like the Duplass Brothers films, I got the idea that Johnson made it on a pretty low budget. I could be wrong about that and haven’t done any research, but as always, that “I’m gonna make a movie” spirit is one that I can appreciate and feel the need to foster in myself. Maybe this year!

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