Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Odd, subtle and exceedingly humane: Frank Hall Green's teen roadtrip tale, WILDLIKE

Stick with WILDLIKE. It may seem a bit off-putting in its initial stages. In fact, my spouse, oft-mentioned in these posts, while ready to call it a day early on, nonetheless stuck it out, and by the finale declared himself very happy that he did. In this, the first film of his to secure a theatrical release, writer/director /producer Frank Hall Green proves himself surprisingly adept at circumventing melo-drama. And since his movie includes plenty of subject matter that would (and in most movies repeatedly does) lend itself to melodrama, I think it's clear that Green intentionally wanted to avoid that pitfall.

How did the filmmaker, shown at left, manage this? Via quiet, unshowy camerawork (by Hillary Spera) that locates whenever possible the human face as the key to character, while plotwise avoiding confrontation, except in the most necessary circum-stances (and even then, Green withholds any push to go over the top). He also quite cannily allows us viewers to form conclusions (just as we so often do in life) before we really have enough information to understand a situation. Thus we imagine the movie is about a typically rebellious and withdrawn teenager (a lovely, still and deep performance from Ella Purnell, below) who is going to spend some time with another close family member while her mom is away.

Well, it's not quite so easy or typical as all that. And while what we soon begin to learn covers territory oft-trod in today's movies (particularly of the independent variety), it is not trod in anything like the manner we see here. Wildlike actually gives independent filmmakers a lesson in what can be achieved using tact and subtlety rather than a flashy style and pile-it-on theatrics.

Opposite Ms Purnell is starred one of Canada's leading actors, Bruce Greenwood, above, who throughout his nearly 40-year career in film and television has amassed a terrifically diverse and creative resume. That is he is not one of our most famous leading men still surprises me, as his acting chops, together with his good looks, ought to have catapulted him to stardom long ago. Instead he keeps appearing in smart little independent films like this one (or Meek's Cutoff, Barney's Version, or the marvellous but underseen And Now a Word From Our Sponsor). With 134 credits (so far) the actor no doubt has many years and roles ahead of him. Here, as the quiet man who grudgingly takes our heroine under his wing, Greenwood is aces once again.

In the supporting cast strong work is done by Brian Geraghty (below) and Noland Gerard Funk (above) as two other young men in Mackenzie's travels. Funk is fine as the surprised-into-sexuality semi-suitor, while Geraghty unveils even more of his seemingly non-stop versatility as he speeds from role to role, this one among his most unusual so far. Also giving another of her wonderful supporting performances is Ann Dowd (two photos below), as the smart and thoughtful woman the pair encounters on its travels.

One of the pleasures of the movie is that filmmaker sees life as more than cut-out cliches with villains and heroes who confirm to their types. He shows empathy for everyone on view, even, in one case, a character who usually gets blasted away with fear and loathing. This does not mean that Green does not know right from wrong, just that each situation demands its own special handling. The problem often is, of course, that it takes some time before certain situations fully reveal themselves.

Where does the title, Wildlike, comes from? The movie may have offered a clue, but if so, I didn't catch it. One thing I do know is this: Whenever the occasion arises where I have to type the word wildlife, I end up typing the world wildlike. I never understood why, since on a keyboard the f and the k are separated by three letters. Yet that's what my fingers insist on typing. Has this ever happened to you?

Meanwhile Wildlike, released via Amplify from Killer Films and Tandem Pictures, opens this Friday, September 25, in thirteen cities across the country. Click here to see all of them, with theaters included.

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