*** (out of five)
Writer / director Kerem Sanga’s extremely modest high-school romance is chock-full of awkward moments, wrenching emotions, jealousies, painfully intense longings and savage betrayals. In other words, it really gets high-school and teenage love. In doing so, it stands apart from similar indie fare; the plot is fresh, non-formulaic and carries no narrative guarantees.
Anne (Dylan Gelula) is best friends with Mateo (Clifton Martinez). One afternoon she tells him she’s in love with a notable slugger on the softball team, Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand), and her confession sends their relationship into stormy waters.
Gelula is quite brilliant as the tentative, often extremely awkward Anne, who is an academic powerhouse but a social dork; her fitful, at times terrified pursuit of the seemingly confident jockette Sasha can be fist-grippingly cringe-inducing, as it should be. Her emotions, feelings, energies, hormones, loyalties and needs are all over the place. She’s a mess, and feels real as hell.
Some of the behaviors on display are really quite intense, and while the film is hardly a thriller, it definitely has an edge missing from many a “cuter” coming-of-age and coming out in high school festival crowd-pleaser. The conflicts, prejudices and obstacles Anne faces are atypical of the genre because they come from within her small circle; her slack-jawed incredulity at her treatment will resonate powerfully with many. And the depiction of high school as a bureaucracy is wryly brilliant. The film touches on some really serious themes – including the issue of consent – and deals with them believably (which is something you can very rarely say about films set in high school). Overall, a quiet achiever with an enormous amount of integrity.