A grimy story of life from the perspective of adolescence, Hide your Smiling Faces has stylistic echos of last year’s Kings of Summer, but set against the stark background of death rather than being a comedic look at young life.
When nine year old Tommy’s (Ryan Jones) neighborhood friend is found dead at the bottom of a ravine, he and his fourteen year old brother Eric (Nathan Varnson) struggle with fitting death into their young outlook on life. The opening shot is a visceral shot of death in action – a graphic example of the circle of life – and that theme is repeated over and over throughout the film. One has to wonder about freshman director Daniel Patrick Carbone‘s childhood – the memories of which served as inspiration for this story.
This is very much a character driven film, with great naturalistic performances from all, especially the young cast. Unlike some ultra-realistic scripts (I’m looking at you, mumblecore) this was not annoyingly disjointed and hard to follow. It all feels quite real and off the cuff – a genuine (dark) slice of life, but keeps enough structure that the narrative is not lost along the way. Not an easy feat to accomplish.
Confusion and frustration abound in the psyches of these kids who are trying not only to make sense of who they are and what life is all about – testing limitations and exploring feelings and ideas – but what death is all about too. It affects the two brothers differently, but seems to bring them together in a rather unique way. Adult characters are seldom seen here and mostly exist for the kids to react to, which I think accurately reflects the young mind set very well.
Without a clear path, the story meanders a bit, just like the summer days during which it takes place. That’s part of it’s strength in creating a compellingly real scenario, but also it’s weakness as the interest level does occasionally drop away as the plot dries up. It never quite lost me though. Any time it started to wander too far off the path, something about the characters would grab me again. The unstructured narrative coupled with the film’s tendency to over emphasize the contemplative theme of death at every moment are both jarring enough to be the noticeable weaknesses of this film. It’s not enough to keep these characters from being gripping start to finish though with emotional arcs ripe for discussion. It’s not a fun film by any means, but a turbulent ride of emotions that is sure to speak to anyone who has been a young human at some point in their life, especially a young boy.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
Hide your Smiling Faces is available on demand and will be in limited release March 28