Growing up is hard to do
We the Animals (three stars) marks a successful screen translation of Justin Torres’s acclaimed coming-of-age novel and a successful feature debut for director Jeremiah Zagar, who also penned the screenplay in collaboration with Daniel Kitrosser (likewise making his feature debut).
The story focuses on three young brothers – Jonah (Evan Rosado), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Manny (Isaiah Kristian) – and their tumultuous relationship with their father (Raul Castillo) and mother (Sheila Vand). Although poor, they initially seem to have carved out something of an idyllic relationship amid the rustic clutter of their often haphazard lifestyle.
It soon transpires, however, that Paps is possessed of a violent temper and Ma is consumed with bitterness and self-pity that drags her, and her children, into the depths of depression. As the narrative unfolds through Jonah’s eyes, the impact of his parents’ behavior begins to inexorably color his own – manifesting itself in his drawings, giving a voice (or a vision, if you will) to his frustration and rage.
This is not always a happy or uplifting story, yet there are moments of magic that linger in the memory. Even in the midst of turmoil, there are glimpses of innocence and joy, often maddeningly out of reach.
There’s no denying the dynamic, naturalistic performances that Zagar has coaxed from his entire cast, particularly the three youngsters, all newcomers to the screen. With its unconventional structure, We the Animals sometimes rambles when it should pounce, yet that’s all part of the ragged, ethereal tone of the piece. It operates at its own pace and its own rhythm and speaks in its own distinctive way.
– We the Animals opens Friday at A/perture Cinema.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.