Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review: And Then I Go

And Then I Go *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Vincent Grashaw.
Written by: Brett Haley and Jim Shepard based on the novel by Shepard.
Starring: Arman Darbo (Edwin), Sawyer Barth (Flake), Melanie Lynskey (Janice), Justin Long (Tim), Tony Hale (Mr. Mosley), Carrie Preston (Ms. Arnold), Melonie Diaz (Ms. Meier), Royalty Hightower (Tawanda), Dallas Edwards (Herman), Phebe Cox (Michelle), Kannon Hicks (Gus), Michael Abbott Jr. (Flake's Dad), Hunter Trammell (Matthew Sfikas), Steele Whitney (Dickhead), Conner McVicker (Weensie), Sarah East (Flake's Mom), Jostein Sagnes (Budzinski).
There have been a lot of movies about school shootings in the years since Columbine (I even did a post on all the ones I had seen back in 2009 - and I should probably do an updated version, as there have been a few since then). Vincent Grashaw’s And Then I Go, based on the novel Project X by Jim Shepard (which I include in a post about novels about school shootings ) is slightly different from all of them. The film is about a pair of boys who plan a school shooting, but is much more concentrated on one of the two – the more reluctant of the two of them – to carry out the plot. He seems hesitant, not entirely into the plan, and you get the feeling that at some point, he’s going to put the brakes on things. And yet, at times, he’s also the one who subtly moves things along. The dynamic between the two kids is much like the one between the Columbine shooters – one is more outwardly violent and angry, the other more depressed and self-loathing, and that’s who the film concentrates on. You feel sympathy for him, and that makes the whole movie more complicated than most of its kind.
Edwin (Arman Darbo) is a ninth grader, small for his age, who basically only has one friend in school – Flake (Sawyer Barth). The two are either picked on or ignored by the other kids in school, and while there are some well-meaning adults at the school, Edwin never really opens up to them either. His parents Tim and Janice (Justin Long and Melanie Lynskey) seem nice enough, but of course, like most teenagers, Edwin blocks them out of his inner thoughts as well. The film’s opening scenes show how Edwin and Flake are isolated from the rest of their class – picked on and beat up. Eventually, it will be Flake who brings Edwin down to his basement to show him his dad’s gun collection (I don’t know if the movie designed itself to avoid the gun control debate, by using older weapons, but they do). Together, they start planning just what exactly they are going to do, and how.
The movie isn’t overly interested in that plan however – it shows how the two of them plan, sure, but that’s a small part of the movie. What the film is most interested in is Edwin himself – his isolation and depression that leads him to do what he does – but also how he misses so much that could well have saved him. Edwin and Flake basically isolate themselves from their classmates, they refuse to get involved in anything – even the most basic things like watching TV, or joining social media. Both of Edwin’s parents are caring – and try to talk to him, but he pushes them away, and while they worry about him, it’s hard to see what else they could have done. What’s the difference between a regular sullen teenager, and one that is planning a massacre? While the Vice Principal (Tony Hale) seems mostly clueless, he does try and reach out to Edwin – tries to get him involved, and socialized. And Edwin is a talented artist, who throughout the film will get involved in a group art project that he excels at – and is encouraged by an art teacher, and befriends the other group members. Edwin doesn’t seem to notice any of this however – Flake has been his best friend since they were five, and he seems somewhat lost without him – when the pair get into a fight, Edwin falls deeper into his depression.
The movie clearly wants you to feel sympathy for Edwin – and you do (at least I did, who as a quiet, isolated high school myself, I see some of my teenage self in Edwin). I do think the movie pushes this a little too hard at times (like a scene with an adult, who steals Edwin’s little brothers ball, which just seems weird). The finale of the movie too I think tries too hard to maintain that sympathy for Edwin – not quite make excuses for everything, but show he was no Flake. A harder hitting film would have pushed Edwin a little further, tested our sympathies for him a little more.
Still, the film works as a portrait of Edwin, and the combination of factors that propel him to do what he does. He’s a more complicated character than Flake – who is the kind of angry, young white man who fits the portrait of these kind of mass shooters (particularly the solo ones, and many of them now are solo ones) that we see more and more often. The film doesn’t seek to provide any easy answers or pat psychology – and it’s stronger for that. It shows how a kid may just get to the point that Edwin gets to – and how easy that can be.

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