Do a Shot: anytime James stares into space
Take a Drink: during each great visual moment
Do a Shot: for each touching moment
Take a Drink: whenever Danny DeVito comes on screen
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
For me at least, coming of age films have always been my favorite film genre. It’s a genre that features a routine storyline, but there have been so many great examples of people taking that routine concept and making a completely unique film that speaks to an audience. From Zach Braff’s quirky take on twentysomethings with Garden State to Richard Ayoade’s clever teen film Submarine, some of my favorite films of recent memory have come from the genre.
With it being my favorite, I am always on the lookout for new and interesting films in the genre. Jumping out in particular with its visually stunning trailer was All the Wilderness, which opened in last year’s SXSW Film Festival. Not only did the film have one of the better trailers in recent memory, but also a cast led by Kodi-Smit-McPhee, who has proven to be one of the best young actors in Hollywood. While the film is not without its flaws, All the Wilderness is thankfully another inventive and thoughtful coming of age flick.
All the Wilderness follows James, a depressed teenager who explores the wilderness of the city while struggling with the absence of his father.
As discussed in my intro, Kodi-Smit McPhee really is one of the most talented young actors in the business, and continues to prove such with his work here. He has always portrayed sort of distant people even at a young age, which fits perfectly for James. McPhee is also able to make his character be likable and easy to understand, which in the wrong hands would not be the case.
Surrounding McPhee is a supporting cast that does a good job with what they have to do. Evan Ross has done solid bit work in some films over the past few years, and relishes his first major opportunity here. Ross makes his character Harmon more than just the stereotype he is sketched out to be. Isabelle Fuhrman, who most would remember as the creep child Ester in Orphan, infuses the film with her natural charm, while also having great chemistry with McPhee. Veterans such as Virginia Madsen and Danny DeVito also do solid work with their respective roles.
All the Wilderness from a technical standpoint has a lot to admire. Despite having absolutely no budget, the film has a distinct, yet alluring look. Director Michael Johnson has to be given a lot of credit here for really pushing himself and his team to the limits, which in turn made a film that way overachieves visually considering its budget. Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra shoots the film with such precision, with every shot featuring a real vibrancy. The film also features great music, including artists like Sigur Ros and Sonic Youth.
With everything firing on all cylinders technically, the direction utilizes all of these strengths to its advantage. Johnson creates a great sense of mood, capturing the journey that James is going on as a character. All the Wilderness also has such a great sense of place, as the city’s unique imagery and overall livelihood of the nightlife makes this place feel like a wilderness for James. Johnson makes his film come alive in such an impressive way,
At its core, though, All the Wilderness most touches its audience with its insight and overall effective themes. James’s journey of finding himself is told in such an honest way. Fearful to connect with anyone after losing his father, the film eases James into the city, before he starts to find himself after such a traumatic incident. Some of the film’s smaller moments hold a great deal of dramatic weight, with these characters and their complex emotions portrayed with a great deal of honesty.
A lot of times movies suffer from being too long, but All the Wilderness actually suffers from being too short. Listed at 85 minutes, All the Wilderness at points is really hitting at all cylinders, but then feels like it rushes to wrap things up. This is a true shame, as I feel like the characters could have developed even more.
All the Wilderness also suffers in the script department. Also written by Michael Johnson, the script has some great conversations between characters, but features a rather routine storyline that is riddled with cliches. This is especially apparent in the third act, when certain conflicts happen that feel very forced considering what has happened beforehand.
Despite a few issues, All the Wilderness is a real treat, with a unique visual eye, great performances, and quite a few thoughtful moments. It’s a shame the film has really dropped under the radar, and I highly encourage people to check it out via VOD or On Demand.