Earnest drama of rural post-adolescents doesn't stake out much new territory -- except geographically, in its use of unusual Northwest settings -- but it also avoids most pitfalls of the coming-of-age genre. Not quite enough commercial juice here to reward a big investment, but careful boutique company could garner some youthful attention.

Earnest drama of rural post-adolescents doesn’t stake out much new territory — except geographically, in its use of unusual Northwest settings — but it also avoids most pitfalls of the coming-of-age genre. Not quite enough commercial juice here to reward a big investment, but careful boutique company could garner some youthful attention. And the scripting-helming Requa brothers are clearly a team to watch.

Tale centers on ne’er-do-well Harper (Chad Lindberg), bent on drowning an empty childhood in endless bouts of booze-soaked partying. One boogie night, in fact, lands him in court, for some mindless vandalism compounded by resisting arrest. When he’s sentenced to six months on a county work farm, the lad must decide whether or not to go on the lam or to accept his pending punishment. In any event, he intends to play with his pals until the due date comes up.

The summer fun in the marshy Skagit Valley — a surreal landscape that opens onto Puget Sound — is complicated by tensions with Harper’s best friend, Luke (Sean Christensen, who also wrote the pic’s music). Not only is Luke Harper’s unindicted co-prankster and a straight-arrow law student who hopes to be a prosecutor one day, but he has a new g.f. having trouble fitting into the scene. Paige (Jade Herrera), a shy, pretty Native American college student returning to explore her regional roots, at first seem to look down on Harper’s libidinal ways. But when Luke gets an internship at the local D.A.’s office, she has enough time on her hands to discover the tough guy’s more contemplative side. He, in turn, is impressed by spending time with a woman he doesn’t need to impress. Trouble is headed in their direction, just like that freight train that runs by the reservation every day.

Picmakers Kelly and Tyler Requa don’t dwell on the more portentous aspects of the material, preferring to spend time with the jokey relationship within a tight-knit group that also includes the passive-aggressive Tully (impressive Luc Reynaud), who too zealously guards the honor of his free-spirited sister (Cristen Coppen); and Mark (Danny Pickering), a mustachioed goofus who thinks he’s much hipper than he is. Ultimately, the Requas give these characters too many jokes to deliver, and while the one-liners are frequently clever and original, they lend a sitcom air to events that could be handled more dramatically — or at least with the neutrality of ordinary human behavior.

If the pic tries too hard in some areas, it leaves others frustratingly vague — it’s awfully hard to tell what led up to these people being the way are, let alone what their personal interests or talents might be, beyond solving (or ignoring) their immediate problems. Still, the darkly exotic locations and the cast’s breezy camaraderie count for a lot, leaving auds with the sense that they know more about the story than was actually told.

In the leads, Herrera gets off to a shaky start, but she becomes a quietly effective foil for Lindberg’s offbeat charisma. As the second banana, Christensen’s not a terribly potent screen presence, but his angsty folk-rock tunes add appropriate texture. Richly colored lensing looks good on bigscreen.

The Flats

Production

A Boondoggle Prods. (Seattle) production. Produced by Jeffrey Carlson, John Biondo, Kelly Requa, Tyler Requa. Directed, written by Kelly Requa, Tyler Requa.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 16-to-35mm), Lawrence Schweich; editor, Joe Rettenmaier; music, Sean Christensen; production designer, Jan Brown; costume designer, Rita Wilson; sound (Dolby), Mickey McMullen; assistant director, Dani Reynaud;. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 13, 2002. Running time: 102 MINS.

With

Chad Lindberg, Sean Christensen, Jade Herrera, Cristen Coppen, Luc Reynaud, Danny Pickering, Lindsay Beamish, Greg Fawcett, Swil Kanim, Brian Sattler, Leif Johnson, Brittany Wedner, Kendra Stewart.
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