The debut feature film from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is a comedy that follows the story of three teenage friends, whom having grown tired of their repetitive, oppressive, and somewhat dysfunctional lives at home make the decision to exile themselves. Combining Stand By Me’esque camaraderie with a concept Baden Powell would be proud of, the three knights without armour survive in the not so savage land of a local forest, spending a summer constructing a new home for themselves, whilst exploring their new found independence and undergoing the trials and tribulations of friendship tested by their own liberation from social convention. Coming to the realisation that not everything is able to remain as golden as the lens flare of a perpetually setting sun.
The three teenage boys, good looking sweepy haired ‘5”7’ searing scathe-pot Joe (Nick Robinson), is leader of the troupe, along with Patrick (Gabriel Basso), the red haired wrestling beefcake violinist with a gentle demeanour and a seemingly painless leg brace; and Biaggio (Mosies Arias), the tiny unexplained weirdo complete with intense stare, disjunctive conversational skills and Italian heritage. The on screen chemistry maintained by these three, along with the rest of the cast is a pleasure to watch, even if some of the content is slightly implausible you soon forget this as you are swept along by the tightly scripted dialogue and believable relationships.
Aside from the boys in the forest flourishing in their new found independence, the other side of the film is dedicated to their parents’ (Joe’s & Patrick’s at least, Biaggio’s seemingly don’t realise/care) search for them, questioning themselves as to why there children would have run away. Frank (Nick Offerman), Joe’s stern father, whose cynical quips seem intended to alienate everybody around him provided probably my favourite performance of the film, I greatly admire his similarly spirited role in Parks And Recreation and was therefore not disappointed, finding the dynamic played out between him and his daughters boyfriend, Colin (Eugene Cordero) exceptionally entertaining.
Patrick’s parents Mr and Mrs Keenan (Marc Evan Jackson & Megan Mullally) play a loving but heinously embarrassing duo who’s inane conversations with each other and with Patrick provide the basis for his bout for freedom. Mullally, who also played the rambunctious prescription pill loving alcoholic Karen in the television series Will & Grace, was a charming addition to the cast, playing the overbearing Mother attempting to communicate on a level with her son but drastically missing the mark every time.
In terms of camera work and colour palette, we are in woodland for the most part so as you can imagine, this is a predominantly green film with rays of golden sun cast over it. These colours benefit hugely by its conversion from the films original digital format onto a 35mm print, profiting greatly from the grain and texture provided by the presence and physicality of this medium. The cinematographer is clearly a fan of lens flare as it pervades much of the feature, the sun seemingly in a perpetual rising/setting position, and for that matter, pretty much any light sources, succumb to the flaring fetish of the person in charge of the camera. This along with scenes filmed on a high frame rate so as to commit the images to the perceptual trickery of slow motion, emit the visual odor of Terrence Malick’s poetic beautification of the film Tree Of Life, not necessarily a bad thing, but no doubt a thing. When these two prominent elements of the cinematography meet, they draw the film into an oneiric aesthetic, presumably alluding to the sentimental nostalgia the film will no doubt provide for many, as it did for me, of summers past spent making a rumpus in a local woodland.
The soundtrack predominantly consists of many variations on a single musical theme, and a rather nice one at that. Though I’m not sure if I can emulate anything remotely close to the theme through writing. To put it simply, it spoke of a mystery, adventure and a high potentiality for triumph, revisited throughout with differing instrumentation it tied the film together nicely and complimented the feel of the acting, the other repeated composition being that of the pipe drumming, first played by the three friends at the start of their adventure and returned to at the dramatic pinnacle of the story providing a nostalgia tinted intensity that just works incredibly well. Patrick’s Violin playing was also a nice addition, providing the musical accompaniment during the father-to-father fishing scene, and hinting that it’s almost possible that both men may actually be able to hear it had they not been bickering.
It was a joy to watch a film that was romantic of the return to a less demanding lifestyle, creating an endearing exploration of a teenage life without parents and the inevitable compulsion to seek independence. I highly recommend for everybody to indulge in this film and hopefully it will wake the forest baby lurking in depths of most human beings. Vogt-Roberts’ clear ability to cast an entire film with actors that are consistently funny whether supporting or central characters shows a fine-tuned attention to detail that I hope will continue throughout his career
P.S. I managed to come this far without mentioning the facial hair, oh the facial hair. I’ll let you see for yourself.
Words>Denzil Hugh Dean