Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sundance with Abe: We the Animals

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

We the Animals
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar

The Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT section is a special category designed to highlight films that are cutting-edge and represent what will “shape a greater next wave in American cinema.” Often, independent filmmakers with a particularly artsy style go on to make more normative films after their debut, as director Desiree Akhavan has done jumping from “Appropriate Behavior” to the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize winner from this year, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” Some of those features are especially grounded in experimental styles, which can work to a degree but still may represent a more unusual approach to moviemaking.

Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado) are three brothers who are exceptionally close, in large part to the occasionally negligent influences of their parents, Paps (Raul Castillo) and Ma (Sheila Vand). When they both work jobs at night, Paps will bring the boys with him to sleep on the floor of his office, and the tumultuous relationship their parents have often leaves them to their own devices, running amok in their house trying to entertain and keep themselves occupied while they wait to grow up for whatever comes next.

This film feels at times like a combination of two recent indie successes, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Florida Project,” mimicking the former’s sense of children running wild as if they own the world and the latter’s portrayal of parents who see and understand what their children are doing but do little to curb their behavior or educate them that they should act differently. The result isn’t nearly as resounding as either of those films, instead presenting a visually astounding and compelling picture of what unsupervised brotherhood really looks like, headed in an uncertain direction because of the true lack of a parenting or life plan from either adult.

The three boys, particularly Rosado as the youngest and most idealistic, are impressive in realistic performances that embody the film’s most effective asset. Castillo and Vand, both of whom have appeared in a number of projects recently, deliver passionate turns that demonstrate just how bonded their characters are to their family despite their preoccupation with things like marital happiness and making a living. This film won a NEXT Innovator Award at Sundance, representing that filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar has interesting things to say about the world, and hopefully his next feature will be just as contemplative and considerably more alert and engaging.


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