Lucas Hedges

Waves

17/01/20

We’re barely a fortnight into 2020 and accomplished films continue to spill onto our cinema screens. Where are all the duds? There have to be some, right?

Waves is a powerful story, told in an unashamedly bravura style by writer/director Trey Edward Shults, whose last film was the underrated It Comes at Night. He focuses here on the lives of a middle-class black family living in Florida. The opening scenes set out Shults’ stall in no uncertain manner, as the camera swoops and spins giddily around the interior of a crowded vehicle, as exuberant as the laughing passengers.

We are looking in on scenes from the life of Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jnr), a handsome  high school pupil preparing for a bright future at college. Driven by his ambitious father, Ronald (Sterling K Brown), and his more pragmatic stepmother, Catherine (Reneé Elise Goldsberry), Tyler is an active member of his school’s wrestling team and spends every spare moment he can training hard for an upcoming competition. 

But Tyler harbours a secret – he’s actually suffering from a serious muscle injury. Doctors have warned him to refrain from exercise, but he continues to push himself and regularly raids his father’s supply of powerful painkillers in order to make it through each bout. To add to his woes, his girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Donie), has missed her period and, as the weeks pass, is unsure of what she wants to do about the situation. As the pressure steadily builds, Tyler finds himself spiralling, inevitably, out of control…

The film’s second half abruptly switches its attention to Tyler’s younger sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), who has lived in her brother’s shadow for most of her life. When she meets up with shy, gawky Luke (Lucas Hedges), the ensuing romance helps her to blossom and she starts to discover her own identity. Then she finds out that Luke, one of her brother’s teammates, has his own demons to face…

While the story itself is not exactly undiscovered territory, the telling is extraordinary. Shults uses his cameras to reflect the different moods, employing vivid colours, eerie flashbacks, even sometimes changing the ratio of the screen to enhance the various emotions of the piece, aided by an evocative soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. 

Shults learned his craft as a cinematographer on the films of Terence Malick and some of the great director’s influences are apparent here but, in fairness, the film never strays into the glacial emptiness that typifies Malick’s recent output – and is all the better for that. 

Waves is an affecting meditation on love, loss and the process of healing. While Harrison Jnr has the showier role, it’s Russell who really impresses here, as her formerly repressed character gradually emerges from its cocoon and takes flight.

The film won’t be for everyone. Those who prefer a director who reigns in the visual tricks may find the impressionistic cinematography too intrusive. But, for those who admire the director’s art, Waves is a brilliant example of how it’s done.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Honey Boy

24/11/19

This semi-autobiographical tale, written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har’el, is clearly the actor’s attempt to exorcise the demons of a troubled relationship with his father, though he’s wisely changed the names of the protagonists. We first meet ‘Otis’ (Lucas Hedges) in 2017, when he’s pursuing a hectic schedule as a movie actor, and abusing drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. When everything spins out of control and he’s involved in an alcohol-fuelled car crash, he’s faced with a stark choice: go into rehab for the PSTD he’s suffering from, or face a four year stretch in jail.

Naturally, he chooses the former option.

From here the film cuts back in time to find Otis, at the age of twelve (and played by Noah Jupe), already working in television. He’s living in a seedy motel with his father, James (LaBeouf), who is a Vietnam veteran, a former rodeo clown and a convicted felon. It’s James’ job to chaperone Otis: make sure turns up for work every morning; go over his lines with him; and try to ensure that his son stays on the straight and narrow. But it’s evident from the word go that James is a pretty terrible example of fatherhood, and in no position to hand out advice to anyone. Indeed, he’s given to dark rages, which he takes out on the boy. As Otis bitterly observes, James is with him for one reason only, because he’s paid to be there.

Having estabished the two versions of Otis, the screenplay cuts nimbly back and forth between them, the twelve-year-old desperately searching for some kind of affection from his old man, the twenty-two-year-old still trying to deal with the messed-up psyche he’s inevitably been left with. Watching this, it’s little wonder that LaBeouf’s own career has been so incendiary. (The screenplay was actually written while he was in rehab.) If there were ever any doubts about the importance of nurture to a growing child, this film underscores its worth in thick black marker pen.

It’s frankly nobody’s idea of a jolly picture, but it’s brilliantly acted by all three of its leads, and Alma Har’el’s vivid, fragmentary style suits the subject admirably, particularly in the short dream sequences that punctuate events, and in which older Otis is still attempting to cross the void that lies between him and his father. While I’m never quite convinced that the angel-faced Noah Jupe could grow up to look like Lucas Hedges, this is a mere detail.

Honey Boy is a powerful, emotive story, expertly told.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Mid90s

25/03/19

The latest Hollywood actor to take his position on the other side of the camera is Jonah Hill. Mid90s is his first film as director and, it turns out, he wrote the screenplay too. The result is a charming little calling card of a film, with a grungy, indie sensibility and a clear determination to avoid the clichés that have dogged so many earlier attempts to get to grips with the subject of skateboarding.

Thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in LA with his single parent mom, Dabney (Katherine Waterston), and his bullying, older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges, working wonders with an almost monosyllabic role). Left mostly to his own devices and clearly fed up with his brother’s constant physical abuse, Stevie chances upon the Motor Avenue Skateshop, run by Ray (Na Kel Smith), a talented skateboarder who has accrued a small coterie of followers. There’s wannabe skate boy, Ruben (Gio Galicia), messed-up rich-kid, Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) and putative filmmaker, Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin).

Watching the gang interact, Stevie has a kind of epiphany. He buys an old skateboard from Ian and sets about following the other kids around with an almost obsessive zeal, taking every opportunity to get into their good books. Though he can’t ride a skateboard to save his life, his presence is soon accepted and and the others even adopt him as a kind of  mascot, giving him the nickname ‘Sunburn.’  Pretty soon, they are introducing him to the dubious delights of drugs, acts of minor hooliganism and granting him access to their regular parties, where, on one momentous night, he even manages to shrug off his cumbersome virginity.

There’s no great message in Mid90s – it’s a picaresque adventure in which we share Stevie’s growing awareness of who he is and what he wants to be. It’s set against a meticulously researched 90s landscape and is provided with a kicking soundtrack to ease matters along. With a surprisingly brief running time of just one hour twenty-five minutes, the film fairly races by on well-oiled wheels and the performances are uniformly  spot-on. Hill even throws in a few simple visual tricks that hint at the possibility of even better things to come from him.

This surely won’t be for everyone, but it feels like so much more than a Hollywood actor’s vanity project. It’s a genuine delight.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Manchester by the Sea

 

08/01/17

Manchester by the Sea is a bleakly brilliant film, far more original and affecting than either the trailer or a synopsis can convey. The plot is fairly conventional fodder: Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is tasked with caring for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father dies. Lee is not really cut out for the job, and their relationship is fraught with problems, which they have to work to overcome. So far, so ordinary. But there is a rare honesty in the telling of this tale that renders it both raw and authentic, making it one of the most compelling films I have ever seen.

Casey Affleck is extraordinary. He’s closed, inarticulate and conflicted, a reserved, introverted man who’s called upon to fulfil a role he simply can’t take on. There is real pain in his performance, despite its understatement. The gradual revelation of his past trauma is beautifully handled by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose script is clearly a gift for the actors in this film.

Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, is as exemplary as you’d expect; she only appears in a handful of scenes, but her final conversation with Lee is utterly heartbreaking, without ever straying into sentimentality or sensationalism. And Lucas Hedges, as Patrick, acquits himself well too, absolutely convincing as the grief-stricken, selfish, but ultimately decent teen.

The setting plays a huge part in this movie: the wintry colours of Manchester reflecting the apparent coolness of its residents. The eventual thaw is slow and slight. The cinematography is beautiful, capturing those cold blues and greys with icy precision.

We loved Manchester by the Sea. Do try to catch it; it’d be a real shame to miss this one.

5 stars

Susan Singfield