High school can be painful, as evidenced in everything from very special episodes of “Happy Days” to the brilliant realism of “Freaks and Geeks” to the sometimes literal horror in “Carrie” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
But rarely is it more painful than it is for the central characters in “Some Freaks,” Ian MacAllister-McDonald’s directorial debut. Outcasts who are relentlessly harassed, ridiculed and, on a good day, ignored, they find solace in each other. We often are told that it gets better. But what if getting better isn’t the solution you’d hoped for?
Matt (Thomas Mann from “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), a high school senior in Rhode Island, has one eye. He wears an eye patch, and the film opens with MacAllister-McDonald’s camera following a hand that threatens to snatch it. Classmates call him Cyclops and want to see the hole where his eye should be.
His only friend is Elmo (Ely Henry), an acerbic gay kid who pines for a bench-warmer on the basketball team, but is so closeted that he engages in homophobia every time the opportunity arises.
His aunt, Jill (Lily Mae Harrington), who is his age, arrives in the middle of the school year. She’s overweight, has blue hair and a lot of piercings. She’s learned to try to head off ridicule by beating everyone to the punch, making fun of her weight before anyone else can. (Sometimes she’s not as fast as her classmates, though.)
So here we have another movie about high school outsiders bonding, showing the cool kids who’s really got it together, right?
Wrong. Far from it. Yes, the trio bonds. And Matt and Jill fall for each other, slowly and awkwardly, an authentic look at the evolution of most high-school relationships. But things don’t automatically get better. Plus, these guys can be jerks, too.
Maybe it’s from years of building up defense mechanisms, but they are just as cutting and bitter and cruel as their classmates. It’s a refreshingly honest portrayal, but at times pretty disagreeable.
Then MacAllister-McDonald does an interesting thing. He skips ahead six months. Matt is working. Elmo and Jill have gone off to college, Jill in California. Matt plans a visit to see Jill, and the reunion doesn’t go as expected. They’ve both changed, a lot. Matt in particular struggles with this. Though clearly Jill likes herself and her life more now, Matt — who’s made some improvements himself — isn’t comfortable. He’d grown used to their previous life. It’s an exaggerated version of what most kids go through as they move through life, and it’s particularly painful for everyone involved.
Elmo faces his own problems. He’s delighted that the object of his affections has chosen the same college he has, but he has no idea how to act on his feelings. MacAllister-McDonald cuts between the three characters at three different parties to chronicle just how much their lives have changed, and how difficult that transition is.
All the actors are good, but Harrington is remarkable. It’s not just the physical changes in her character, but the genuineness with which she inhabits her. When she and Matt begin to trust each other a little more emotionally, she says, “I won’t lie to you if you won’t lie to me. How’s that sound?” It’s the second sentence that sells the line, sells what the character is going through, and Harrington delivers it perfectly.
“Some Freaks” isn’t an easy watch but it’s an intriguing one, an unexpectedly different take on a genre that still isn’t played out.
Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network
Good Deed Entertainment presents a film written and directed by Ian MacAllister-McDonald. No NPAA rating. Running time: 97 minutes. Now showing at Facets Cinematheque and on demand.