Anyone who endured high school rather than enjoyed it well knows what a soul-damaging experience the teen years can be. That more hellish ordeal has been a popular topic plumbed — sometimes successfully, other times mundanely — in numerous coming-of-age stories.
Rarely do these explorations — be it on screen or on the page – have depicted the painful, awkward period with such raw truthfulness like “Some Freaks,” a head-turner of an indie feature that deserves a wider release than it is getting. (You can see it in one theater in S.F this week or rent it on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms).
Directed and written with unsentimental compassion and intense understanding by newcomer Ian MacAllister-McDonald, “Some Freaks” is a no-nonsense romantic comedy/drama with sharp edges aplenty.
Actor Thomas Mann (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) effortlessly taps into the beaten-down, hunch-shouldered, anxiety-riddled reality of Matt, a depressed high school kid with an eye patch. Matt is insufferably picked on by obnoxious Rhode Island high school brats. His life at home isn’t much more inviting since he’s living with his bossy sister (Marin Ireland) and her baby. Even his best friend Elmo (a well-cast Ely Henry) — who is gay and crushing hard on a straight, out-of-his-league athlete — demands a lot.
Matt meets and falls for the acerbic and unpredictable Jill (Lily Mae Harrington, giving the film its most radiant performance). She’s relentlessly bullied due to her plus size but maintains a sassy, no-guff demeanor. Suddenly, a seismic emotional shift happens, leading Matt to experience joy, likely for the first time in his life.
What makes “Some Freaks” stand out from other dramas dealing with teens lingering on the high school fringes is that MacAllister-McDonald and his leads don’t make the characters saints. These young people are flawed. They react poorly at times, and that genuineness gives the film an honest soul.
Jill eventually relocates Southern California where she adjust how she looks and attracts the attention of Patrick (Lachlan Buchanan, so perfect here), a golden boy from her former high school. What motivates Patrick to pursue Jill? Where will this lead?
Answers come, but the resolutions are never black-and white and pat.
What is an absolute is that “Some Freaks” announces the arrival of an exciting and original new filmmaking voice. Seek it out. Recommend others see it. It is that good.
3. 5 out of 4 stars
Rating: Starring: Thomas Mann, Lily Mae Harrington, Ely Henry, Lachlan Buchanan, Marin Ireland
Director and screenwriter: Ian MacAllister McDonald
Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes