'We the Coyotes': Film Review | Cannes 2018

Courtesy of Noodles/Studio Orlando
A valentine to the fringes, modestly proportioned and keenly observed.

A debut feature follows a young couple, played by Morgan Saylor ('Homeland') and McCaul Lombardi ('Sollers Point'), during their first day in L.A.

Like countless twentysomethings over the decades, the westward-bound couple in We the Coyotes arrive in Los Angeles with half-formed plans and half-empty pockets. First-time feature filmmakers Hanna Ladoul and Marco La Via, themselves twentysomethings, were inspired by the adventure and challenges of their own early days in the city. The writer-directors might have made the journey from France, rather than road-tripping from Illinois like their characters, but with its in-the-moment focus on a 24-hour period, their story taps a vein of youthful possibility whose appeal is universal and timeless.

Making the most of an ultra-low budget, Ladoul and La Via combine well-etched contemporary specifics — from L.A.'s housing crisis to its bobo class of coffee-shop denizens — with sensitively observed drama of an intentionally modest scope. This is a day in the life, albeit a day that could quash dreams or set them in motion. Like its two leads, the film has an unforced allure, and a smart appreciation of everyday comic absurdity. The understated tension that the filmmakers build gives way to something joyous, if less gripping, in the late sequences. Though the movie could have cut deeper, it strikes a lovely balance between openheartedness and satiric jabs, and, as its central duo try to find their footing in new terrain, it captures the blunt-force impact of slammed doors and the way that a yes can change everything.

For Amanda (Morgan Saylor) and Jake (McCaul Lombardi), the drive west is naturally steeped in the romance of new beginnings. Chance the Rapper on the car radio is the sweet soundtrack to this next chapter in their still-new relationship. (Elsewhere, Juan Cortes' subtle soundtrack score is a sparingly used enhancement.) Even from the freeway, they feel something different in the Southern California air — rendered with a muted clarity by DP Stephen Tringali as the two traverse the city, from its drab, industrial edges to the burnished glow of a sunset beach.

Jake might have long entertained the prospect of moving to the Coast, but it's Amanda's impending job interview at a record company that has turned a vague idea into a practical course of action. They arrive in the middle of the night at the San Fernando Valley home of Amanda's aunt, Jeanine (Betsy Brandt), and the film's early scenes in the suburban setting deftly pose the question of whether Jake's apparent aimlessness spells trouble for his more organized and focused girlfriend. That's certainly how Jeanine sees it, her tight smile barely masking her disapproval.

As in the soon-to-be-released Sollers Point, though here in a much brighter key, Lombardi has a knack for igniting contradictory responses in other characters as well as the audience. In this case his feral intensity is matched by an earnest, easygoing charm. Jake's lack of a game plan — his immediate goal is to kick back and explore his new surroundings — makes him the kind of guy who some people rush to write off. He and Amanda joke about her family's perception of him as "the biggest loser on the planet," and Saylor effortlessly conveys her character's ability to balance grown-up responsibilities and spontaneous love.

The movie's most incisive section, fluently edited by Camille Delprat, intercuts between those worlds, and two forms of hopeful energy. While Amanda is in crisp button-down, neat skirt and performative mode for her nerve-wracking, and increasingly farcical interview, Jake meets up with an old pal, aspiring rapper Danny (Khleo Thomas), for a loose-limbed, joint-smoking hangout. The upbeat chemistry between the two young men has a natural charm, and makes it all the more affecting when Danny reveals, almost offhandedly, that he's been living in his car since his place was torn down, presumably for the latest in L.A.'s rapidly multiplying luxury developments.

With their lingering glance at Skid Row's tent city and a pointed, darkly comic episode involving a sellers'-market horror show of a rental apartment, La Via and Ladoul are alert to larger economic realities as well as those of their characters. Jake and Amanda aren't impoverished, but as the writer-directors make clear with a minimum of backstory, neither do they have a lifeline to deep family pockets. In the course of the story's single day, they're hit with a number of financial setbacks, each of which could have a disastrous domino effect. Each reversal might also pull the lovers apart; their impatience with each other after a particularly trying series of events is well played, and perfectly underscored by the pair's wordless descent to the subway on parallel stairways.

The filmmakers' eye for pockets of the city that are seldom explored on the big screen — and may be endangered by developers' wrecking balls — extends to states of mind, and the bohemian fringes where young dreamers play and create and seek out like souls. We the Coyotes is a refreshingly unsentimental valentine to youthful resilience. Like the title critters, Jake and Amanda and their fellow searchers aren't idle amblers; they're scoping out the city from a nighttime ridge, ready to retreat when necessary, seeking their place between what's wild and what's tamed.

Production companies: Noodles, Studio Orlando, Vanishing Angle
Cast: Morgan Saylor, McCaul Lombardi, Betsy Brandt, Khleo Thomas, Lorelei Linklater, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Vivian Bang, Ravil Isyanov
Directors-screenwriters: Hanna Ladoul, Marco La Via
Producers: Raphael Gindre, Hanna Ladoul, Marco La Via
Executive producers: Matt Miller, Kevin Van Der Meiren
Director of photography: Stephen Tringali
Production designers: Julius Schultheis, Pauline Khamphone
Costume designer: Yasmine Abraham
Editor: Camille Delprat
Composer: Juan Cortes
Casting director: Donna Morong
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Acid)
Sales: Cercamon

87 minutes

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