Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rebecca Thomas' ELECTRICK CHILDREN offers Mormons as human beings--& Las Vegans, too!

What makes ELECTRICK CHILDREN so special is the manner in which it subverts what you most expect. What an oddity is this little movie from first-time full-length writer/
director Rebecca Thomas (the filmmaker is shown just below). In its details, it seems quite realistic (cultist Mormons would know best about this), but as those details pile up, they begin to form not so much an image of the nasty, know-nothing (except the restrictions of their sect) people we often see in films that depict fundamentalist religions, but rather relatively decent folk doing what they must within their terribly proscribed life and their based-on-very-odd-hearsay beliefs.

As a writer, Ms Thomas must have an unusually benign view of our world and the people in it, for her movie offers us a tale of folk who actually try to do the right thing -- sometimes tardily, after first doing the wrong thing -- and not just the Utah Mormons we initially encounter but the resident of Las Vegas, a place not especially known for its benignity. That the filmmaker pulls this off, at the same time as she gives us a possible second-coming story and a love story (or two), is a feat in itself. Further, she does this sweetly and without undue arm-wrenching.

Basically, this is a fish-out-of-water tale about a young Mormon girl (the radiant but wonderfully real Julia Garner) -- who finds herself seemingly pregnant with no father in the picture (no sex having gone on, either) -- who journeys to Las Vegas to find the singer whose tape recording she has heard and has come to feel must have somehow fathered her child. (Weird, yes, but I swear Ms Thomas and Ms Garner make you at least understand where all this is coming from.)

Our girl's older brother (a funny, repressed Liam Aiken, above) unknowingly tags along for the ride, forever trying to convince his sister to return home. When the pair connects with a group of teenage skateboarding, would-be musicians and their girlfriends, sparks fly -- but in just about every way you wouldn't expect.

Most movies would use the sheltered Mormon girl in Las Vegas for either kidnapping/sexual thrills or cheap laughs. What happens here is so much stranger and more affecting: a lovely meeting of the religious and the secular in which everyone learns and grows. Is this a kind of religious parable for an age that desperately needs more humanity? Why not: We could use one. And what delight it is to view a movie in which people try to help each other. (Don't worry: There is still plenty of "conflict" to push the plot along.)

Into this mix come Rory Culkin (above, right, in the back seat) as -- eventually -- the most important of these Las Vegas teens, and then Bill Sage (front seat, behind those shades) as someone who should not be so very easy to find, but fortunately is. We buy this, I think, because of the filmmaker's ability to keep her little parable going. Both actors bring immense charm and even more sense of bizarre discovery to the movie.

Electrick Children is one of those films (there are more and more of them these days) that manage to barely open theatrically, get some very nice reviews, and then disappear under the grid. It's one more reason that Netflix streaming seems such a godsend to us movie-lovers who care about independent, foreign and documentary film. The film has only just appeared on the Netflix facility, so catch it while it's available.

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