And Then I Go (2017)
The film was reviewed while attending the 2017 Rome International Film Festival
Edwin (Arman Darbo), a young high-school student, is having a bad day. The problem is that his day hasn't really started yet, and it's not just today, every day is a bad day. He battles the halls of high school, part of an army of two, himself and his best friend Flake (Sawyer Barth). Their lives are filled with confrontations from not only upperclassmen, but their status is so low that even middle school students have no trouble standing up to them. To make matters worse, Edwin can't sleep, only finding solace in his artwork, his friendship with Flake and his undying love for his adorable little brother, Gus (Kannon Hicks).
Edwin seems to have a permanent seat in the principal's office. When his weary, but caring principal (Tony Hale) tells Edwin after he has refused to cooperate, "Kids like you used to get their butts kicked when I was a kid" Edwin replies "They still do." Edwin's world is full of daily struggles just to survive, where even something so simple as getting your locker open can start the ball rolling toward utter defeat. Edwin is seen by teachers, fellow students and even his parents as a smart aleck and a dispirited person who never applies himself to the task at hand.
In Edwin's world, he is the first to blame, and truth be told many times he is guilty, but we see time after time that it's not always Edwin's fault; the world just seems to want to beat his spirit to the ground. Even Edwin's parents are quick to accuse Edwin with an almost a knee-jerk reaction. Tim (Justin Long), is a quick-witted father who would rather deal with any subject, no matter how severe, with humor, and Janice (Melanie Lynskey), a caring, loving mother who doesn't have a clue how to connect to her kid. It doesn't help that it is evident that even when Gus is acting up, is adorable, a harsh contrast to the moody and sullen Edwin.
The only one in the world that sees the world on a similar plane as Edwin is Flake. While both boys are experiencing the same world, they react to it differently. Edwin uses his words to make witty comebacks when attacked or retreats into his drawings. Flake doesn't use his words (except words of profanity) like Edwin, instead, Flake reacts to attacks with violence, even when the odds are stacked against him. Flake fight's any confrontation by attacking it. When hit by a soccer ball on the head (we don't know if it was deliberate, but my guess is it was), instead of brushing it off, he takes the ball and kicks it far from the game, which of course means he gets beat up by a member of the soccer team.
This story of the life of high school misfits, who are trying to survive not just school but life itself is brilliantly brought to us by director Vincent Grashaw and screenwriter Brett Haley. Based on the book 'Project X' by Jim Shepard, Grashaw shows this world through the eyes of Edwin, the camera making him the center of attention. Our attention is always on Edwin, as we see what he sees, which allows us to be a part of his life and begin to scratch the surface of who he is.
We begin to understand why Edwin is influenced by Flake, not because he is superior to Edwin, but just because Edwin feels that he can't lose Flake as his only friend, even if it means he has to do things he knows are morally wrong. The relationship doesn't go both ways, as Flake is willing to drop anyone in an instant that doesn't follow his way of thinking.
Edwin's world it's filled with people that care, they just don't know how to reach him. His Principal attempts repeatedly to enroll Edwin in a program to help him socialize with other students. His art teacher, played by the perfectly cast Carrie Preston, tries to reach Edwin through his talent for drawing. When she praises Edwin for winning an art contest, Edwin doesn't know quite how to react to the win, it being such a foreign concept in his world. Edwin, working on the art project with two classmates, shows the ability to cooperate and work with others only to have Flake try to sabotage Edwin's relationship with them by calling one of the student's profanity-laced names.
It's not that Edwin's parents don't care; they just don't know how to connect to him. Most parents experience that wall that teens put up between themselves and their loved ones, but usually, it's a temporary one, a wall that comes down when a teenager begins to figure out their place within the world. The problem is Edwin is so defeated; he doesn't see a world where he has any place in it, that the wall between himself and his parents will never be breached. Melanie Lynskey's Janice, in a breathtakingly and heartbreaking performance, comes the closest to breaking through, but she can never find the right words to reach Edwin, often saying something that triggers Edwin to retreat further into his shell. I loved Justin Long, as the father who has good intentions but doesn't have it in him to have a heart to heart with his son. Long's character just can't connect on that level and is left to fall back on his jokes, something that worked when Edwin was Gus's age but is not what he needs now.
At the heart of this film is the poignant and moving performance of Arman Darbo, as the troubled Edwin. Darbo is on screen for almost every second of the film, and right from the start, we see it in his face that Edwin is not happy in this world. Darbo gives us an insight into Edwin without overplaying the part; it's the subtle signs he gives us that show us just how tortured his soul is, and yet, we still know that he has some humanity in him. There is a stark contrast from Darbo's portrayal of Edwin and Sawyer Barth's angry Flake. Where Darbo's Edwin keeps most of what he thinks and feels inside, Barth's Flake is someone who acts on his feelings (mostly through anger) resulting in action. The contrast of acting styles perfectly matches the personalities of the characters that they portray.
It's not a pretty world that Vincent Grashaw's film brings us into, but unlike a similar film, Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, And Then I Go is shown through the eyes of a child, not the parent's perspective. Edwin is a teen that is so defeated by life, his only choice is to stick with his one and only friend, even if though consequences are dire. And Then I Go is an agonizing and disturbing journey to a conclusion that we keep hoping won't happen but we have to ultimately concede that Edwin's fate was long ago decided for him. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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