So many movies try to tell us what today's teenagers think. "The Other Kids" gets closer to the truth than most.
The new film, dubbed a “fictumentary” by writer/director Chris Brown, combines two seemingly disparate formats with keen results.
The fusion isn’t always seamless. Yet what emerges is a quiet, sometimes haunting look at teens on the cusp of adulthood. Sometimes you can see as they shut their eyes how much they want high school to go on forever. It’s all they know. That’s oddly reassuring when adult-sized fears lurk ahead.
The “Other Kids” in question are six California seniors weeks away from graduation. Does college automatically await them? How will they pay for it? What will they study? Are they emotionally prepared to leave home for good?
One student considers a stint with the U.S. Military to keep college loans at bay. Another suddenly abandons musical theater, befuddling his parents.
They’re typical kids but hardly stereotypes.
They love their parents even if they don’t always agree with them. One of the film’s loner types spends afternoons cleaning and firing her rifle.
These aren’t the jocks, cheerleaders or stoners you find in most teen movies. Just try categorizing them in one clipped sentence. That makes them all the more intriguing.
The cast features genuine fresh faces, teens with little or no previous acting experience. They all impress in a way that’s rarely inauthentic. A few sequences feels like scenes out of a more conventional film. The rest plays out like a polished, thoughtful slice of life.
Documentary filmmakers must accept less than ideal lighting conditions and other obstacles to get the shot. “The Other Kids,” given its hybrid roots, allows for a more thoughtful approach. It’s hard to find a sequence that’s neither beautiful, elegant or just visually profound.
‘Other Kids’ Get Their Closeup
Brown possesses a keen eye for composition as well as patience. He knows we don’t demand MTV-style edits to keep our attention. This sleepy town and its young people are more than enough.
“Kids” connects when it’s showing the tiny moments of the students’ senior year. A teen helping her dad move out of their home. A rebellious daughter gently berating her mom for buzzing her hair the wrong way. A teen’s shoulder embedded with red welts, the result of a secretive cutting habit.
That poetry wobbles when a character’s illegal status is pushed to the forefront. Immigration is a critical issue today, particularly in California. The story thread temporarily ruptures the docu-feel achieved so gracefully elsewhere.
It’s fascinating to hear these teens just … talk. Why they don’t agree with organized religion. How they can’t see themselves stuck in their hometown much longer. And who they ultimately trust despite their age-appropriate fears.
“The Other Kids” isn’t flashy or teeming with teen angst. It doesn’t shout. It speaks, and audiences would be wise to listen.