Kid-Thing: Sundance Film Review
11-year-old actress Sydney Aguirre stars as a tomboy with little parental guidance who stumbles upon an elderly woman trapped in a well.
Two isolated souls keen to escape their tiny worlds — one an old woman at the bottom of a well, the other a young rural girl stuck with an ineffectual father — are at the core of Kid-Thing, an idiosyncratic and wispy second feature from the Austin-based Zellner Bros. The film's slender conceit is given some weight by its 11-year-old leading lady Sydney Aguirre, whose portrait of a flinty, instinctively mischievous tomboy growing up without benefit of parental guidance provides gratification even when there's not much going on. Far too small a work to survive for long in the competitive theatrical environment, the brothers' follow-up to their 2008 Sundance entry Goliath will no doubt travel the indie festival circuit and perhaps land niche bookings in hipster enclaves before finding its natural level in assorted home-viewing formats.
Working with minimal means and devoted to longish takes in which incidents slowly build to often droll, semi-absurdist payoffs, writer-director David Zellner and his producer-cinematographer Nathan focus here on the narrow, entirely unsupervised life of Annie, a tough little critter with blond hair, a wide, freckled face and solid build who spends her days ferreting out what there is to find in the vicinity of her father's Texas goat ranch and stirring up mild trouble, such as throwing pads of baking dough at passing cars and paint-balling a clerk who chases her after she shoplifts from a convenience store.
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But her most intriguing discovery is an abandoned well in a forest from which a woman's voice emanates, calling for help. Annie's reaction the first time she hears this is to run away. The second time, she hangs around long enough to learn that the women trapped down below is named Esther but, when the clearly aged woman plainly asks the girl to get her out of her predicament, Annie replies, “Why should I?”
There are enough scenes between Annie and her listless dad Marvin (Nathan Zellner), who communicates more easily with his goats than he does with his daughter, to make it clear that she has received no moral, ethical or even educational assistance from her old man. In a pathetic scene with his presumed best friend Caleb (David Zellner), Marvin reveals himself as borderline moronic, devoid of normal motivation and utterly tuned out from his daughter's needs.
This goes a long way toward explaining Annie's cluelessness as to how to deal with the woman in distress, to whom she eventually begins throwing down junky food and drink as well as a walkie-talkie. But she still doesn't take direct action, as whatever has been thwarted in her development prevents her from reacting in a normal empathetic manner.
The Zellners' freqent fixed-frame compositions, oddball ideas for scenes, slow-burn sense of humor, unusually dense sound design and ongoing collaboration with The Octopus Project for the score create some engaging aesthetic effects. But, with the possible exception of Aguirre's performance, there's little here to stick to the ribs and the film's ultimate impact is slight.
Those with vivid memories of Susan Tyrrell's striking performance in John Huston's Fat City 40 years ago might be enticed to check this out just for her but, as she plays the trapped woman, she's limited to a (good) vocal performance only.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT)
Production: Zellner Bros.
Sales: Cinetic Media
Cast: Sydney Aguirre, Susan Tyrrell, Nathan Zellner, David Zellner
Director: David Zellner
Screenwriter: David Zellner
Producer: Nathan Zellner
Director of photography: Nathan Zellner
Editor: Melba Jordorowsky
Music: The Octopus Project