True Adolescents

True Adolescents (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Amy (Laura Kai Chen) broke up with Sam (Mark Duplass), none of his friends would allow him to temporarily stay at their place. Not having much of a choice, the thirty-four-year-old musician, whose band was on a verge of booking a record deal, called Aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo) for free lodging. Coincidentally, it was the weekend that Oliver (Bret Loehr), Sam’s cousin, was supposed to go camping with his father. However, a last-minute cancellation forced Sam, out of guilt, to accompany Oliver and his best friend, Jake (Carr Thompson), during the trip. “True Adolescents,” written and directed by Craig Johnson, may not have the most creative plot but it nonetheless piqued my curiosity because it was so proud and so open in allowing its characters to behave like any teenager or teenager-at-heart we could randomly pluck off the streets. And because the characters were not given a typical arc in which they were required to learn something from their experiences, I enjoyed watching and listening to them without the need to be on my toes as to when they had reached a turning point. Its naturalistic performances made me feel warm. Particularly impressive was Leo as the caring aunt because although she wasn’t in front of the camera for very long, I felt like I already knew her. This was probably because the spirit that Leo embodied reminded me of my favorite aunt. Whenever I need something, all I’m required to do is ask and problem solved. Leo’s radiant smile, especially when it was directed to Sam, was infectious. During the pauses in their conversations, I wondered what she really thought about her nephew’s unstable life and career choice. Duplass, too, was very easy on the eyes in his own way. Approachable more than typically handsome, his sometimes scathing sarcasm paved the way on how he essentially viewed himself. Like the hormonal teens he had to take care of, he wrestled with a lot of conflicting thoughts about his place in the world and how people valued (or not value) him. Sam, Oliver, and Jake were full of insecurities and the script had a way of letting us feel their anger, frustration, and disappointment when things didn’t go their way. Out of the three, I was able to relate with Jake most. He reminded me of how I was during the first year or two of high school: when confronted with conflict, I chose to walk away, turned inwards, and asked what was about it about me that other people felt like they could get away with treating me like their own emotional punching bag. It was not a good feeling and each time Jake walked off, I knew exactly how he felt: the rage he bottled up inside his scraggy frame and the thirst to unleash it somehow. Jake became my emotional compass. Although there were a lot of uncertainties and vague resolutions, I knew that he would turn out okay just like I did. If there was one thing that “True Adolescents” needed more of, it would be scenes similar to Sam giving Oliver a lecture on what constituted good music. I may not always be on the same wavelength as Sam but we can agree that Sonic Youth is a damn good American alternative rock band.

3 replies »

  1. Franz,

    I remember loving this movie when I saw it at a film festival three years ago. I’ve been wanting to see it again ever since, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.

    You have a very good point here about the particular charisma of Mark Duplass, in this movie as well as in “Humpday”, I’d say. Here, he’s like a good-nature man-child, but one with depths that are waiting to come into light. If, anyhting, his character, and his performance, reminded me of Mark Ruffalo’s turn in the fantastic “You Can Count On Me”.

    I want to see this movie even more now.

    • I really wish you guys have Netflix over there (I hear it’s started to expand in Europe?). I saw this via Netflix Instant (streaming) when it was about to expire. I’m so glad that I did because it turned out to be very good. From its premise, I thought it was going to be another one of those gross-out humor things but while camping. On the contrary!

      I haven’t seen “You Can Count on Me” for a really long time (maybe over 6 or 7 years ago) so I can’t recall specifics but I remember being moved by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo’s performances in general. Maybe a revisit some time soon. :)

      • Franz,

        I actually included this movie on my Top Ten list for 2009 ( I don’t know if it holds up, but at that moment I found it funny and surprisingly moving.

        As for Netflix, you’re right. They’re expanding rapidly all over Europe at the moment, and will reportedly come to Norway in the next couple of months. We have some reasonably good streaming services already (the arthaus-y is the best of them), but hopefully Netflix will be able to secure distribution rights to a much broader selection of films.

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