Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talking Tribeca: Blame

I’ve had the pleasure of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 19th-April 30th.

Directed by Quinn Shephard
Festival Screenings

Human beings have an incredible ability to be horrible to each other. That’s not always true, to be sure, and as a result there’s still hope for our species. Adolescence, however, tends to be one of the stages in life where peer cruelty knows no bounds and often has no real inspiration other than a drive to mock those less fortunate or less favorable. Films like “Mean Girls” have shown the especially vicious nature of teenage girls, and “Blame,” which is the brainchild of a young woman not much past that time period in her life, presents a both fresh and familiar look at the perils of high school.

Abigail (Quinn Shephard) returns to school at the beginning of the year after suffering a psychotic episode of sorts, the details are which are never given, the year before. She is ostracized and mocked, and finds herself the particular target of Melissa (Nadia Alexander), who corrupts her new friend Sophie (Sarah Mezzanotte) and unsubtly tries to cut Ellie (Tessa Albertson) out of the friendship dynamic. When Melissa loses out on the lead role in “The Crucible” to Abigail, she goes on the warpath. The fact that drama teacher Jeremy (Chris Messina) seems to have a soft spot for Abigail only gives her more fuel for the fire.

Shephard, who is currently twenty-two, has made quite the debut as a feature filmmaker here. She stars, directs, and co-wrote the screenplay with her mom, showing extraordinary promise as a young talent. She calls this film her “college,” and it’s clear that she is enterprising and passionate, presenting an academic thesis of sorts with a film based in part on a play she loves, adapted to modern times and society with high school drama mixed in. I had the rare experience of sitting right in front of Shephard and the other actresses during a Tribeca screening, and hearing them react to what clearly their favorite moments from the film was a real bonus.

Unsurprisingly, in a film about teenagers, it’s the younger talent that really shines. Messina receives top billing for playing a teacher in a lackluster role that, like the other adult performances from TV regulars Tate Donovan and Trieste Kelly Dunn as adults, aren’t nearly as fleshed-out or formidable as the mean girls and their victims are. Alexander is particularly terrific at being awful, and all four actresses play well off one another in this smart, involving drama with plenty of entertaining moments and a relatively solid grasp on what it’s like to be in high school.


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