Tag: daniel zolghadri

Low Tide

Low Tide (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

“Low Tide,” debut film of writer-director Kevin McMullin, brings to mind coming-of-age pictures from the ‘80s, especially in how it captures the look and feel of living in a seaside vacation spot, but it lacks the necessary human depth for it to be truly compelling and memorable. This is particularly strange because the lead actors, Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson who play brothers, Peter and Alan, left to fend for themselves while their father is away for work, possess the ability to deliver convincing dramatic performances. The screenplay is not written deeply enough in order for these actors to be able to create subjects worthy of further exploration.

It begins as a story of three seemingly close friends (Johnson, Daniel Zolghadri, Alex Neustaedter) who break into people’s vacation homes to steal drugs, booze, and various items they could sell for petty cash. We watch them hang out at the boardwalk, scout for girls, get high, and pick fights with Bennys—a nickname they give to summer tourists. Meanwhile, a local cop, Sergeant Kent (Shea Whigham), suspects them as the ones responsible for the recent break-ins. He did not have a single evidence… until one of the teenagers ends up leaving a shoe at a crime scene. The boys’ relationship is tested and at one point we are meant to.wonder whether what they shared was friendship at all. Perhaps it simply a case of birds of a feather.

The plot also involves finding a dead man’s gold coins, but I think this is less interesting than the relationship between two brothers who look, sound, and act so differently when placed side-by-side, it takes a bit of persuasion to buy into the fact they are related at all. These highly valued coins is but a conduit to Peter and Alan coming together and admitting to one another that they are tired of being poor. And so their most recent asset must be protected at all cost. It is disappointing then that the writing fails to establish their desperation—how much each of them is willing to sacrifice—out of fear that one or both may come across as too unlikable.

There is sweet subplot involving Alan and an out-of-towner named Mary (Kristine Froseth). Although the cuteness of their chance meeting and going out on dates does not quite fit the overall foreboding feeling of the picture, I still found some enjoyment in these detours. I would have preferred for their conversations to have run longer since Alan is not a character who makes it a habit to talk about his personal life and the future with his so-called friends. It helps that Johnson and Froseth exhibit effortless chemistry when sharing a frame.

The picture may be low on thrills, but it is not short on consequences. It is not a clear-cut case of bad guys being punished and good guys prevailing. We get the impression that the brothers have learned something about themselves, about each other, and the world around them—expected from a coming-of-age film. Although the work left me wanting more depth, I am optimistic that McMullin can deliver stronger, more urgent content in future projects.

Alex Strangelove

Alex Strangelove (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fifteen to twenty minutes into the picture, I was convinced that “Alex Strangelove,” written and directed by Craig Johnson, would have nothing to offer other than Disney Channel-like conflicts, characters, and sense humor—but not from the creative and daring Disney shows from late 1990s and early 2000s… Rather, from those shows released during the mid- to late 2000s that inspire viewers to roll their eyes due to cheese overdose. But something unexpected happens during an expected high school party—thrown by the drama kids, no less. As it begins to unbox the central conflict of the story, the main character discovering that it is possible he might be bisexual, the picture suddenly comes to life.

There are plenty of coming out stories but not too many stand out. One of the main reasons is a lack of authenticity. In order for this type of story to resonate, it must be believable, from the look of the high school environment and the cast playing certain types of teenagers to the variegated conflicts the characters must grapple with, especially when it comes to the person coming out of the closet and those within his or her inner circle.

While this film does not stand strong among teen-centric LGBTQ+ films like “Get Real,” “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “The Way He Looks,” “Beautiful Thing,” and “Summer Storm,” it gets one thing exactly right: It is compassionate toward both the person dealing with his sexuality and those around him. There is no villain here other than one’s crippling shame and fear—two elements so powerful that Alex is unable to ask himself even the most basic questions regarding his sexuality and to answer questions asked by his peers. Perhaps one of the best parts of the film is when his girlfriend confronts him about not having known or even suspected that he might not be heterosexual after seventeen years. Is that even possible?

Alex is played by Daniel Doheny and he turns the smart, kind, and neurotic class president into a believable person. Doheny shares great chemistry with Madeline Weinstein; the latter is not simply the suspicious girlfriend who nags. She, too, has her own set of problems outside of her romantic relationship with Alex. I enjoyed that their connection is written in a way that it is rooted in friendship rather than one that is copied and pasted from a default template of teen romcoms. When one hurts, so does the other. The picture takes its time to underline this recurring theme. There is no doubt in our minds that their friendship would be able to weather the storm. The question is how their relationship is going to be sculpted.

While the film can be unabashedly crude for the sake of generating laughter, especially the gross-out scenes which almost always revolve around parties, notice its approach during the more dramatic scenes. It is quiet, patient, and the camera is still as it focuses on faces. It feels as though the camera is a friend who is there to be present, to listen, to console as the teens face challenges. By having the courage to trust on what silence communicates and to not move the camera in order to avoid distraction, the writer-director is able to create an intimate look into the teenagers’ lives.

“Alex Strangelove” has a few surprises up its sleeve. Even the boisterous best friend (Daniel Zolghadri) is given shadings. For instance, moments when he tells Alex that he can be difficult sometimes will likely remind the viewer of a good friend who does exactly the same when the occasion calls for it. As for Alex’ potential romantic interest, it is so nice that Elliot (Antonio Marziale) is written as a stable figure, one who does not need to change for anything, or anyone, or simply because the plot demands it. There is freshness to be found in this picture if one is willing to look closely.