TIFF Review: The Lesser Blessed

The Lesser Blessed (2012, directed by Anita Doron)

As long as kids continue to come of age, there will be coming-of-age stories. No matter what time, place and culture the story's set in, the near-universality of the passage into (or at least towards) adulthood gives an audience an easy hook into a worldview they might not otherwise be able to relate to. You might not be a snot-nosed teen in post-war America, or a young woman finding her place in the world in England in the 1800s, or a troubled boy in '50s Paris, but you can find enough common ground with them to give yourself over to their journeys.

Which is not to say that The Lesser Blessed (the film, at least... I haven't read the book it's based on) is a classic on the level of Catcher In the Rye, or Jane Eyre, or the 400 Blows. But it's unique enough to carve out a little space of its own next to those heavyweights.

Larry is a gawky, withdrawn teenager whose past can be traced in the burn scars all over his body. A member of the Dogrib tribe living in a small town in the Northwest Territories, he seems to wander through his days listening and drumming along to heavy metal, pining after perky blonde Juliet and avoiding getting beaten up by the class bully Darcy. When bad-boy Johnny Beck arrives at school though, putting Darcy in his place and hooking up with Juliet, Larry finds himself drawn out of his shell and forced to confront the demons he's been denying.

While there's nothing terribly original about the basic setup, The Lesser Blessed gets full value out of its northern setting and native heritage. In another time and place Larry might have become a Dogrib medicine man or prophet, but in a 21st century high school he's just an awkward kid prone to dreaming of the bush and making sweetly cryptic, poetic pronouncements. The sense of isolation is palpable; living in a place where there isn't much to do other than drink and get high Larry's options for escape are very limited, and running away means sleeping outdoors and a potentially quick death whether you're prepared for what nature can throw at you or not.

Joel Nathan Evans mostly strikes the right notes as Larry and Benjamin Bratt is solid as the new guy in Larry's mom's life, but it's Kiowa Gordon (yes, one of the Twilight hunks) that makes the biggest impression as Johnny, letting just enough of his pain show through to explain, if not excuse, his behavior.

The Lesser Blessed is aptly named. It isn't the greatest coming-of-age film you'll ever see, but you won't regret seeking it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment