As You Are
Studio: Votiv Films
Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Feb 22, 2017
In a dimly-lit bathroom, Mark (Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton) probes at a painful-looking cut on his lip. Only when he combs a patch of greasy hair from his face do we see a swollen eye and bruising that clue us in to a more brutal injury. Soon afterward, we see someone – shot from a strikingly high angle – disappear into the woods, and a gunshot ring out. As You Are then leaps ahead an undisclosed amount of time from its compelling opening, and through washed-out police interrogation videos with the cast, we’re slowly given clues to the mysterious tragedy that occurred just off-camera. Cutting away from these, we’re made privy to the lives of three outcast adolescents in their junior year of high school in the months before things went horribly wrong.
Jack (Owen Campbell) is a soft-spoken kid, not confident enough in himself to have much of the rebellious streak you might expect from a rock-loving teen character with long hair, skateboard, and unbuttoned flannel. His single mother (Mary Stuart Masterson) invites her latest boyfriend to move into their trailer home, making his teen son Mark (Heaton), a sudden, unexpected stepbrother. The two hit it off, though, bonding over music and marijuana; Mark’s angst and attitude inspiring some much-needed boldness in his new sibling. They co-opt a third into their inner circle, geek girl Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), and the three spend some carefree days skipping school, smoking pot, and watching pornos. When Jack’s mom and Mark’s dad split, the group is torn apart; things are even further complicated by an unspoken physical attraction that’s developed between the two boys.
Debut director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s film shows off a talent for exploring realistic and interesting characters in moody, visually well-crafted vignettes; it falters, though, in its pacing and its prioritization of what’s important to telling a good story versus what looks cool on screen. At more than 100 minutes, it feels an hour longer thanks to shots that linger far longer than they’ve served their purpose. When Jack wanders, alone, down an emptying school hallway, he wanders down the entire hallway; when Jack and Mark carry their new bunkbed into their home, for some reason we watch them go all the way out to the truck, unload it, and then carry it all the way back in. Atmospheric music does its best to lend these overlong, unnecessary sequences some forced profundity, but in the end so much of the film – including many of the interrogation scenes – feels like runtime padding.
Another thing that will feel like a peculiar choice to many viewers was to set this particular coming-of-age drama in the early ‘90s, even before taking into consideration that its 23-year-old co-writer/director was only an infant during the era. The period setting feels almost painted on, very little about it feeling specific to the era save for the VHS-grade police interviews and several vintage Thrasher covers tacked onto Jack’s bedroom walls. (Even Jack’s killer vinyl collection, featuring albums by the Melvins and Mudhoney, looks lifted from a Millenial’s dorm room, rather than the dubbed cassettes or scratched-up CDs you might’ve found in a poor teenager’s collection circa 1994.) The film’s music does play a factor into killing the movie’s immersion. There are many references to Nirvana – the film’s title alludes to the Nevermind track, and a pivotal moment between the leads is, in part, incited by the news of Kurt Cobain’s death – and, of course, this being a low budget production there’s no way you can expect to hear cuts from the band; what does hurt it is that little of what we hear on the soundtrack evokes any of the same feelings of anger or isolation normally associated with the music our leads are said to obsess over. That’s probably being needlessly harsh, but if you’re going to go through an effort to make a period piece, the period setting should feel lived-in, rather than arbitrary.
All of that said, As You Are makes for a nice showcase for young talent. All three leads breathe a lot of life into characters that, in lesser hands, may have been little more than angsty teen stereotypes. And for all of the above complaints about pacing and the false-feeling setting, As You Are remains watchable through its end in spite of its faults. Joris-Peyrafitte is an obvious talent, and with one feature – that’s far, far from a bad movie, just not a particularly wonderful one – already under his belt, seems like someone from whom we can expect greater things in the coming decades.
Author rating: 5/10
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