|Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 2003's indie gem.|
Directed by Jordan Melamed
Produced by Trudi Callon and Kirk Hassig
Written by Michael Bacall and Blayne Weaver
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Bacall, Cody Lightning, Elden Henson, Sara Rivas, and Don Cheadle
Despite its 2001 Sundance premiere, this great little film did not premiere in the U.S. until almost 2 and half years later. This indie drama takes place in a mental institution's juvenile wing, which is joined by the hotheaded newcomer, Lyle Jensen (Gordon-Levitt). Some of the other teenagers there are Chad (Bacall), Kenny (Lightning), Sara (Rivas), Michael (Henson), and Tracy (Deschanel). All of these characters have their own problems, and they are under the watch and guidance of Dr. Monroe (Cheadle). Lyle and Michael both struggle with rage and get into fights. Kenny is Lyle's roommate and is dealing with sexual molestation issues. As Lyle tries to get Kenny to open up, he also bonds with Chad, a teen waiting on a large inheritance from his rich uncle. Meanwhile, Sara is getting better, and she tries to help Tracy, who is quiet and who has been verbally abused by her mother for years. Lyle even takes a liking to Tracy when they share similar problems in a group session. Though Lyle is fighting his own demons like the others, he tries put his life together before it's too late.
From what I've read, people either love or hate this movie. I'm in the former category. The film just works. Shot with jarring handheld cinematography, the film revels in its independent roots. Other than Don Cheadle, the cast is mostly full of unknowns (at the time of its release anyway). Both of these distinctions are what makes the film work. The camerawork puts the viewer right in with these characters, as the actors deliver confident, authentic performances. Gordon-Levitt, Cheadle, and Rivas are particularly noteworthy. Gordon-Levitt does an excellent job of internalizing Lyle's anger and somehow externalizing it without overplaying his scenes. Cheadle is both calm and collected as Dr. Monroe, but he explodes in a truly powerful moment that should've been his "Oscar scene". Though Rivas hasn't done much since, she is a natural as Sara, a damaged girl who paints and who is attempting to overcome her problems. The rest of the cast also performs well. If you want a solid film with great performances, or if you just want to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in a film together made before (500) Days of Summer, see this movie.
Oscar Tally: None