By Christopher Bell | The Playlist June 6, 2011 at 4:19AM
With all of the children-centric movies that populate the cinema landscape, why do so few of them actually feel like adolescence? For the most part (obviously depending on how and where you grew up), childhood represents the ultimate freedom. The heavy responsibilities of life have yet to strangle all the glorious fun out of the being; one has all the time in the world and it's spent trying to figure out what amusement will come next. Unfortunately, movies tend to bog down all of that with plot points, character arcs, etc, actively destroying the genuine feeling of being a wee lad or lady, naive and innocent. If any kind of person (in this case, character) should just "be," it should be the youth, possibly the most illogical of us all. In "Amy George," the very competent indie debut outing by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas (C & Y), the filmmakers refrain from even the lightest story devices, fully embracing the essence of being young without relying on contrived incidents to fall back on.
Jesse (Gabriel del Castillo Mullally, who we'll hopefully see more of) spends most of his days in Toronto climbing trees, killing time, and avoiding the daily vitamin his Mother issues to him. He doesn't seem to have many friends (though he's also not a loner nor an outcast) but he enjoys the company of women, with one of the early key scenes involving him trying to convince a girl that her hickie/neck rash is hardly visible. The boy seems comfortably average -- nothing terrible but nothing fantastic, but he can't complain either way. It's only until one of his teachers encourages the class to do some true, personal art that Jesse takes a look inside and discovers some insecurities and yearnings to be taken seriously.
Selecting the medium of photography for the assignment, his parents purchase him a film camera and leave him to his devices. But placing the brush in a boy's hand doesn't automatically create anything, and his lack of inspiration leads him to wander parks and the suburban streets of his neighborhood. Not the big change he expected, only now the heaviness of doing something "personal" and "serious" give the usual excursions a certain type of bleakness. While he's at the library, Jesse stumbles on a book with a few quotes that stand out, including one stating that you cannot be a true artist unless you have a shitty life or have regular sex -- adding another grounding weight to his life.
But this shove towards maturity doesn't snap into place so quickly, and the film continues to work in a fragmented, loose, stream-of-consciousness kind of way, having Jesse meander around and have typical conversations with his classmmates. The young photographer visits his alcoholic Aunt -- the only adult he's truly honest and open with -- and laments his decent upbringing that is currently preventing him from becoming a "true artist." While she encourages him positively, it's only until the arrival of the titular neighbor Amy George and her subsequent sleep-over (her father is in the hospital for a broken arm after fending a home intruder off) that he comes into contact with the adult moments that he longed for. However, this strain to partake in things reserved for the mature leads him to do something very questionable.
No spoilers, but the filmmakers' instinctual style and emotion-driven direction prevent what occurs from being overly shocking; instead, it feels appropriately uncomfortable and sincere, a kid made to interact with things so far above him that he makes an unfortunate decision. While their style is still in its infancy (to be truthful, it's leagues ahead of most indie festival fare), C & Y capture some terrifically shot moments that legitimately feel like adolescence in its purest form. The lack of narrative doesn't make it the quickest film, nor does it make it very easy to swallow, but you can feel the liberty of youth and the nostalgia for those long, carefree days.
There's some polishing and sharpening to be done for sure, but "Amy George" displays serious talent and we hope there is more to come from Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. [B]