Co-helmers Dylan Trivette and Matt Zboyovski evidently spent so much time on the textural aspects of their debut feature that no energy — or thought — remained for their script, which leaves “Miles Ahead” an attractively assembled package with almost nothing inside. This impressionistic account of an introverted young man’s coping with loss is emotionally understated to a self-defeating degree. Result has minimal commercial potential, but will provide ample calling-card evidence of duo’s ability to create a stylish professional sheen on a low budget.
Born and raised in Asheville, N.C. — though location-shot pic’s characters mysteriously lack regional accents — teen Miles Williams (Ben Allison) lives with his widowed dad (Lindsay Ayliffe) and hangs mostly with best, perhaps only, friend Taylor (Timm Perry). After the boys fix up an old jalopy, the more outgoing Taylor convinces Miles to take a road trip eastward for the weekend. (“There’s a whole world out there, Miles, beyond those mountains … places where only true adventurers go. Finding out is worth the risk,” he gushes.) But a tragic accident en route leaves Miles with another void in his young life.
Since Miles is barely communicative before the accident, however, his closed-down grief doesn’t provide any further insight. Sparse screenplay relies too much on pregnant silences and pensive looks throughout, providing little else to go on. Miles’ relationships with a high school g.f., a subsequent college one, and his pal’s surviving younger sister remain cryptic.
Miles is, natch, an aspiring writer. His periodic typewriter musings spell out the overall parade-of-painful-memories intent, should anyone miss the point. Eventually he starts listening to jazz (he was named after Miles Davis) and reading the Beats. This has a cathartic effect that sets him free to hit “the open road” and Find Himself at fade-out. And that’s a hoary cliche that all pic’s restraint can’t disguise.
Allison’s open, serious face holds the camera easily, but no thesp should be asked to carry so much screentime weight with so little narrative or psychological ballast. Other perfs are also appealingly natural, albeit similarly hobbled by underwriting.
Malnourished as “Miles Ahead” is substance-wise, its surface is very accomplished. Kenneth Wilson II’s widescreen lensing toys with focus to achieve a stream-of-consciousness effect abetted by Joseph Hahle’s smooth editorial weave. Score by Joshua Chase is also generally a plus. Result is a delicate, melancholy, lyrical tone lacking only a strong foundation.