You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘As You Are’

A sensitively wrought teen-angst drama from 23-year-old first-time filmmaker Miles Joris-Peyrafitte.

Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, Mary Stuart Masterson, Scott Cohen, John Scurti.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4444438/

A promising and impressively self-assured debut for 23-year-old filmmaker Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, “As You Are” is crafted with the confidence and skill of a veteran, but also the youthful eye of someone not far removed from his protagonists. His sensitively wrought teen-angst drama has a timeless quality that makes its early-’90s setting feel simultaneously specific and universal. Far from an easy sell commercially, the pic deserves careful handling by a specialty distrib capable of connecting with younger auds bound to see themselves reflected in the characters.

While Hollywood happily caters to teens in order to cash in at the box office, members of that age group are rarely depicted on screen with the sort of dignity and respect Joris-Peyrafitte and his co-writer Madison Harrison afford them here. Focused on the friendship between two high-school boys and the female classmate who both unites and divides them, the well-observed drama is somewhat hampered by a “True Detective”-style police interrogation and flashback structure which turn what should be natural progressions for the characters into plot twists.

The investigation begins with Jack (Owen Campbell), a good-natured kid who lives in a nameless suburban town with his single mom Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson) and has trouble making friends. That changes when his mom starts dating Tom (Scott Cohen), a former Marine and the single dad of Mark (Charlie Heaton), a Kurt Cobain-worshiping delinquent who strikes up an immediate and powerful bond with Jack. (Pic’s title is a nod to Nirvana track “Come As You Are.”) That bond becomes inseparable when Karen and Tom move in together and Jack and Mark bunk up as brothers.

Both outcasts in their small town, the two are attacked by a trio of bullies outside a local diner. That’s when they catch the attention of Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), a good girl from a stable family who transforms their duo into a trio in no time. Skipping school, smoking pot and dancing around questions of more-than-friendship, the three pals simply enjoy being teenagers — but their reverie is threatened by Tom’s controlling and increasingly violent behavior.

As the story unfolds in lengthy flashbacks between brief bursts of interrogation, suspense mounts over what exactly happened and who is to blame. The victim quickly becomes clear through a process of elimination (only one major character isn’t interrogated), but the exact crime and motive remain a mystery for as long as possible. Unfortunately, the build-up doesn’t lead to a particularly rich or unpredictable payoff, and that sense of disappointment may be heightened if viewers know some key character developments ahead of time — the sort of developments that might need to be revealed if the film scores a theatrical release.

Still, it would be a shame for the film to miss a chance in theaters, given the beautiful craftsmanship on display. Joris-Peyrafitte has assembled a relatively young crew all working in top form, from Caleb Heymann’s gorgeous lensing to Abbi Jutkowitz’s crisp cutting. Production designer Audrey Turner and costume designer Miyako Belizzi help create a strong sense of time and place without giving in to nostalgic tendencies — a trap the film dutifully avoids in every department. And Joris-Peyrafitte’s own original score with Patrick Higgins adds considerable texture throughout.

The actors, a mix of relative newcomers and screen veterans, similarly rise to the occasion across the board. Campbell, whose excellent arc on “The Americans” looks in retrospect like a warm-up to this part, nails the role of a shy kid who hasn’t yet found his place in the world, while Brit thesp Heaton seems to channel River Phoenix in moments (the early films of Gus Van Sant feel like a key touchstone here, as does Tim Hunter’s “River’s Edge”) as the more extroverted but also emotionally tortured of the two. Stenberg, best known as a victim of the first “Hunger Games,” has blossomed into a captivating leading lady and her effortless charisma should lead to bigger parts in the future. Masterson and Cohen make the most of smaller roles, going from an unforced sexual chemistry to wrenching scenes of domestic strife.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'As You Are'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 25, 2016. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: An Otiv Films and Heretical Reason Prods. presentation in association with Buffalo 8. (International sales: WME, Los Angeles.) Produced by Brent Stiefel, Sean Patrick Burke, Joseph Mastantuono, Justin Lothrop. Executive producers, Todd Stiefel, Diana Stiefel, Charles Stiefel, Daneen Stiefel. Co-­producers, Matthew Helderman, Joe Aliberti, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte.

Crew: Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte. Screenplay, Joris-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Caleb Heymann; editor, Abbi Jutkowitz; music, Joris-Peyrafitte, Patrick Higgins; production designer, Audrey Turner; art director, Joshua Owens; set decorator, Allison Littrell; costume designer, Miyako Belizzi; sound, Rick Cardone; supervising sound editor, Arjun G. Sheth; re-recording mixer, Mike Frank; visual effects, Aura FX; stunt coordinator, Roy Farfel; associate producer, Shea Chappel; assistant director, Sean Patrick Burke; casting, Jessica Kelly, Rebecca Dealy.

With: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, Mary Stuart Masterson, Scott Cohen, John Scurti.

More Film

  • Pluto TV Picks Up Collection of

    Pluto TV Picks Up Films for Woody Allen Season on U.K. Service (EXCLUSIVE)

    Viacom-owned streamer Pluto TV has inked a deal with Signature Entertainment for a collection of Woody Allen movies from the 1990s and will put them out in a dedicated season on its AVOD service in the U.K. Woody Allen Fridays start on the service this week, with the filmmaker’s pictures playing on the Pluto TV [...]

  • Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote

    Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote Variety Innovate Summit

    “The Big Bang Theory” co-creator and TV producer Chuck Lorre and the head of Netflix Films Scott Stuber will keynote Variety’s Innovate Summit presented by PwC on Dec. 5 in Los Angeles. Lorre will share the career experiences that lead to his co-creating and executive producing “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon” and “Mom.” Lorre’s extensive [...]

  • John Williams poses on the red

    'Star Wars' Composer John Williams Nabs 71st Grammy Nom 58 Years After His First

    Composer John Williams received two Grammy nominations, as announced yesterday, bringing his grand total to 71 nominations, with 24 wins to date. Williams was nominated in the composing and arranging field. His “Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite,” written for the new “Star Wars”-themed park at Disneyland, was nominated for best instrumental composition, while his arrangement of [...]

  • Rian Johnson'Knives Out' premiere, BFI London

    Rian Johnson on 'Knives Out,' 'Star Wars' and Toxic Fandom

    Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is a wickedly funny, fiendishly clever, and surprisingly prescient murder mystery. It succeeds as both a brilliantly constructed puzzle-box of a whodunit, offering up a big reveal that’s extremely satisfying, and as a incisive comment on the class divisions and prejudice that are roiling America. If that sounds medicinal, fear not. [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins Best Film at Asia Pacific Screen Awards

    Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which earlier this year won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, on Thursday added the Asia Pacific Screen Award for best film to its burgeoning trophy cabinet. “Parasite” producer Jang Young-hwan was on hand to accept the award at the end of a ritzy ceremony in Brisbane, Australia. The APSAs, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 6

    British Directors Guild Issues Guidelines for Filming Nudity and Simulated Sex

    Directors UK, the professional guild for screen directors in Britain, has launched guidelines for directing nude and simulated sex scenes to prevent unprofessional conduct in film and TV. Described as the “first of their kind in the U.K.,” the new guidelines “are born of the need to set clear and shared professional expectations that apply [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content