'Age Out': Film Review

Courtesy of OnBuzz
An artful lament for unparented youth.
11/22/2019

Tye Sheridan plays a foster child struggling to live on his own in A.J. Edwards' sophomore feature.

Having based his first film, 2014's The Better Angels, on the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln, A.J. Edwards imagines a less consequential man's youth in Age Out, a portrait of an orphan (Tye Sheridan) leaving the foster-home system and attempting to make a life on his own. A close associate of Terrence Malick, who produced Angels, Edwards shares both actors (Sheridan and co-star Imogen Poots), a Central Texas focus and a good deal of stylistic sensibility with the older auteur; he also shares an eye for emotional and economic precariousness with this pic's executive producer, Gus Van Sant. But Age Out stands beyond the shadow cast by these artists; it is its own strong film and, whatever flaws it might have, deserves a much more visible release than it is getting.

Sheridan plays Richie, seen first in an interview with a case worker; he's turning 18 and ready to be emancipated from the state's care. They discuss his options, and the older man suggests higher education, but Richie is ready to start earning a living. Appearing to steal some money out of a cabinet whose lock he picks, he has just enough to rent a shabby apartment. He gets a couple of menial jobs and tends to his responsibilities, but still, finds himself short on cash to keep his water service on.

Seemingly motivated by an encounter with a drunk, overly friendly stranger (Caleb Landry Jones' "Swim") who warned him that his landlady was infamous for ripping tenants off, Richie breaks into her office one night in search of cash. The next day the landlady (Brett Butler) is dead, and a sheriff's detective (Jeffrey Wright) has heard Richie was the last person at the crime scene. We didn't see Richie kill the woman, but, murderer or no, he has ample reason to get out of town. Then he meets Joan (Poots), and his plan to leave falls apart.

Sheridan's reticence is magnetic as Richie quietly tries to get to know Joan. She has also lost her parents, albeit not as a child, and is dealing with trauma. Though their finding each other here involves a dubious coincidence, their connection through shared vulnerability is wholly credible, and two sequences of them out in the world are quietly entrancing.

In the latter, a road trip through West Texas, minimalist artworks by Donald Judd and Dan Flavin in Marfa form chilly bookends to a horrible memory. Though hardly minimalist (DP Jeff Bierman's fluidly moving camera finds beauty in unlikely places), Edwards' work here is often enticingly spare — its only clutter coming from Swim, who keeps popping up in Richie's life and causing trouble.

Jones, a specialist in characters of queasy-chummy malevolence, makes a fine devil figure here. But he's more than is needed to push Richie into jeopardy. The film's opening minutes contain interview clips with real youths who lived in the foster system; very brief discussions of how they got there prompt viewers to meditate on the emotional deficit in Richie's life. Having so few reasons to expect help from those around him, it's little surprise if he takes one risk too many in his attempts to make a life for himself.

Production company: OnBuzz
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Imogen Poots, Caleb Landry Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Brett Butler
Director-screenwriter: A.J. Edwards
Producers: Tyler Glodt, Nicolas Gonda, Christian Sosa
Executive producers: Gus Van Sant, Alan Elias
Director of photography: Jeff Bierman
Production designer: John Parker
Costume designer: Kameron Lennox
Editor: Sam Butler
Composer: Colin Stetson
Casting directors: Karmen Leech, John Williams

Rated PG-13, 92 minutes