Judge Jim Thomas is still an adolescent.
Several years ago, writer/director Craig Johnson developed a script as his senior thesis for film school; producer Thomas Woodrow developed a production budget for the movie for a different film school project. By the time both were done, they sort of shrugged their shoulders, said, "What the hell," and went ahead and made the movie. New Video now brings the result, True Adolescents, before the court.
Facts of the Case
Sam (Mark Duplass, The League), a thirty-something rocker in Seattle, has managed to avoid serious responsibility thus far, but time has him firmly in its sights. He's on the outs with his band and has just been dumped by his girlfriend. With nowhere else to go, he crashes at the home of his Aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo, The Fighter), reluctantly agreeing to take Sharon's fifteen-year-old son and his best friend on a camping trip. Despite the age difference, Sam really isn't that much more mature than the boys, resulting in an odd combination of mutual revulsion and bonding.
The Pacific Northwest wilderness is a lovely but unforgiving environment, and when the trip takes an unexpected turn, Sam finds that the glories of the grunge rock lifestyle have not exactly prepared him for life.
It's rare to find a fresh take on the coming-of-age story; it's even rarer that you find one that has such genuine emotion as True Adolescents. Mark Duplass carries the film as he undertakes Sam's external and internal voyage, frequently rising above the material. As Sam sets out with the boys (Bret Loehr and Carr Thompson), he's confident that he can train his young padawans in the ways of the world, be it women, music, or the more minor issues such as survival. In fact, Sam is one of the more self-deluded guys you're likely to find; he's also something of a dick, frankly. It's a testament to the depth Duplass brings to the role that in this particular episode of man vs. nature, we don't find ourselves rooting for nature. Loehr and Thompson both absolutely nail that fifteen-year-old vibe in which you're still coming to terms with puberty, when just about anything can scar your psyche. There are a couple of great set pieces, mainly any scene in which Sam is trying to buddy up with his two charges. Melissa Leo's role is little more than a cameo, but it's an important role, not just because she sets the wheels of the plot, but because she embodies the sense of purpose and responsibility that Sam so utterly lacks. Everything leads up to a wonderfully understated final scene.
The film was shot on 16mm Super, so don't expect stunning vistas. The video is pretty good for 16mm, though. The audio track is stronger than expected, which really helps with the strong music track. Extras are a mixed bag. The commentary track with writer-director Craig Johnson, producer Thomas Woodrow, and editor Jennifer Lee never quite gets off the ground; there's some good stuff in there, but they never quite seem to get past the "Holy crap, we made a movie" stage, and as a result there's a too much stuff that's really just ephemeral. The commentary track with lead Mark Duplass is hit or miss; there are some nice moments—especially when he's explaining what he thinks is going on in Sam's head—but there are a lot of dead spaces. The making-of featurette is pretty good, particularly when dealing with the actors, and there's a good set of deleted scenes (with commentary), including an expanded ending.
Trivia: The Johnson/Woodrow/Lee commentary track was recorded just a few weeks before Melissa Leo won the Oscar for The Fighter, while Duplass' track was recorded shortly afterwards.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Several plot elements are a tad clichéd, and the movie relies perhaps a bit too much on Pacific Northwest stereotypes. At times the plot drags—there are only so many variations of "Sam acts like a jerk" to which you can subject an audience. In addition, you may quickly grow tired of hearing people saying "Dude"; it gets to the point where you expect Jeff Bridges to turn up at any moment.
True Adolescents is a surprisingly good movie. Don't be surprised if you start hearing more from Mark Duplass in the near future.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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