Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Back Roads

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Back Roads
Directed by Alex Pettyfer
Spotlight Narrative

Family life is never perfect, and for some, it can be downright destructive. The breakup of a marriage with children involved can be extremely damaging for the growth and well-being of all involved. When a parent dies, that leaves a void which is difficult to fill, and in the rare cases where one parent is responsible for the other’s death, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will come out of the situation unscathed and with a positive outlook on the world. In such cases, the oldest child is usually called upon to take charge as the closest thing left to a responsible adult.

Harley (Alex Pettyfer) skips college and lives at home working two jobs to care for his three younger sisters after his mother (Juliette Lewis) is sent to prison for killing his father. His hours are the least of his problems, as the oldest of his sisters, Amber (Nicola Peltz), frequently lashes out at him for imposing rules on her and acts out sexually to anger him. As they watch over the two younger girls, Misty (Chiara Aurelia) and Jody (Hala Finley), Harley becomes intoxicated with a married neighbor, Callie (Jennifer Morrison), and quietly begins an affair that serves as his only outlet from a stifling life he never expected to have to lead, which proves to have had even more devastating and horrifying effects on his family members.

This is not a film that attempts to glamorize any of the experiences of these children. Scenes at the home are far from pleasant, ranging from complaints about food preparation and lack of funds for car insurance to screaming matches and furniture set on fire. Harley’s life is monotonous and grim, and Callie, who feels repressed in an entirely different way, represents a rare bright light and instance of beauty. The way he sees her and expresses his feelings about her contrasts so drastically with everything else he experiences and does, and the fact that she is married with two kids, one of whom is Jody’s frequent playmate, means that the one good thing in his life surely can’t last forever.

At just twenty-eight years old, British actor Pettyfer pulls double duty with his feature directorial debut, presenting a surprisingly deep and dark drama, and also acting in the lead role. Morrison, best known for less serious TV work on “House” and “Once Upon a Time,” is terrific in a role representative of a slightly older generation, and all three actresses portraying the sisters are superb, with Peltz turning in a particularly fierce and unforgettable performance. As this film navigates disturbing material, it handles most of its scenes, adapted from Tawni O’Dell’s 1999 novel, well, though many viewers are sure to be put off by the content and the way the film addresses the abuse its characters have endured. It’s an impressive effort by Pettyfer and certainly one worthy of analysis and exploration.


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