'And Then I Go': Film Review | LAFF 2017
Melanie Lynskey and Justin Long co-star as parents of a troubled teen in Vincent Grashaw’s sophomore feature.
The psychological and emotional hurdles facing teenage boys that are sometimes given only passing notice by parents and teachers form the centerpiece of And Then I Go. A disturbing drama of teen disaffection, Vincent Grashaw’s feature provides an essential and insightful perspective that will resonate with audiences attuned to the challenges of adolescence.
Not every kid has an emotionally traumatic junior high experience, but for students like Edwin (Arman Darbo), the pressure to navigate the teen social scene, perform academically and satisfy parental expectations can create unbearable stress. In fact it’s so bad that he suffers from frequent insomnia, often lying awake at 4 a.m. while his parents and younger brother Gus (Kannon Hicks) soundly sleep. Sometimes he phones Flake (Sawyer Barth), his neighbor and best friend since the age of five, but never lets on that he’s feeling lonely or anxious.
At school they stick together, branded as outcasts who are routinely ridiculed, bullied and ostracized by their classmates. Flake reacts to these slights and taunts aggressively, lashing out and losing out in nearly every confrontation that he actively provokes. Edwin tends to withdraw even further when he’s targeted, isolating himself from his assertively clueless dad (Justin Long) and chronically concerned mom (Melanie Lynskey).
More inclined to smart-mouth his teachers than to direct his considerable talents toward schoolwork, Edwin frequently ends up in the vice principal’s office or afterschool detention, where he kills time drawing in his sketchbook. After an especially humiliating beatdown, Flake comes up with a radical idea for silencing their tormentors and intimidates Edwin into going along with it. Even as their plan progresses, Edwin’s relations with his parents and classmates begin improving, leading him to question his commitment to Flake’s risky gambit.
Adapting his original novel Project X along with co-writer Brett Haley (The Hero), author Jim Shepard revisits the traumas of growing up with uncommon sympathy and discernment. Grashaw’s affinity for the psychology of troubled young men is also on display here, as it was in his bracing 2013 debut Coldwater. Never condescending or outwardly critical of his characters’ shortcomings, the director’s approach is primarily observational, allowing the inexorability of escalating events to take hold.
Two films in particular loom over And Then I Go — the first will become obvious as the plot progresses; the second accompanying thematic thread is provided by stark contrasts with 2014’s Boyhood. In place of Richard Linklater’s interpretation of growing into adulthood as a natural progression of emotional adjustments and assimilations, the filmmakers substitute wild swings of anger and remorse that ultimately tip the characters toward violence and away from acceptance of life’s inevitable challenges.
Darbo and Barth both prove exceptionally receptive to the filmmakers’ sometimes surprising guidance by exhibiting contrasting responses. Barth excels at concentrating the frustration that an uncaring family and educational system foist upon Flake into sudden bursts of uncontained rage. Darbo’s more hesitant and gentle interpretation of Edwin’s shift from helpless reaction to uncertain complicity in Flake’s plan is no less affecting for its quiet and reluctant solemnity.
Grashaw’s reliance on handheld camerawork and DP Pat Scola’s preference for working with available light further heighten the film’s immediacy and naturalism.
Production company: Two Flints Production
Cast: Arman Darbo, Sawyer Barth, Melanie Lynskey, Justin Long Tony Hale, Carrie Preston, Melonie Diaz, Royalty Hightower, Kannon Hicks
Director: Vincent Grashaw
Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Jim Shepard
Producers: Laura D. Smith, Rebecca Green
Executive producers: John Kingston, Jean Kingston, Bill Wall, Aaron J. Wiederspahn, Charlie Peacock, Anderson Hinsch, Jessie Creel, Stu Pollard, Harris McCabe, Alan Pao, Heather Toll, Brett Haley, Charlie McDanger, Nick Case
Director of photography: Pat Scola
Production designer: Sean Keenan
Costume designer: Kimberly Leitz
Music: Heather McIntosh
Editor: Alan Canant
Casting: Sig De Miguel, Stephen Vincent
Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Sales: Preferred Content