Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 11, 2021 7:24 am 
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ANJINI TANEJA AZHAR AND QUINN LIEBLING IN YOUNG HEARTS

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This is an adorable little movie, even if it has a hard time saying anything new

Young Hearts (wisely retitled from the awkward Shakespearean "Thunderbolt in Mine Eye") scores with its charm and specificity at the very tough task of trying to ring something new out of the theme of American high schoolers' first love. Coincidentally since the Duplass brothers wound up funding and executive producing, this may get pigeonholed as a teen mumbecore movie. (It really isn't.) The brother and sister film makers Sarah and Zachary Ray Sherman shot on a shoestring in ten days in their own verdant Portland neighborhoods using appropriate age actors. Seattle-born Anjini Taneja Azhar, 18 playing 14, is Harper, who says her adoptive parents are being so politically correct she has nothing to rebel against. Quinn Liebling, 15 playing 15 (but taller than the guy playing his widowed teacher father), is the boy, Tilly, sophomore into acting who's about to get his first big role in the school production of As You Like It. She's a freshman so smart a popular upperclassman asks her to do his homework.

The pair is almost ridiculously inarticulate at first. After the first kiss up in Tilly's top floor room, they loosen up, go way beyond kissing, and so eventually start hugging in public, and start forming sentences when they talk to each other. Now that they're lovers, they can be friends. They even discuss politics, sort of (Harper is definitely a feminist). They also contend with the fact that they've been living across the street forever, played when they were small kids, and Harper's brother Adam (Alex Jarmon) is Tilly's best friend, who can't handle this new wrinkle. Lest this seem too incestuous, Tilly has never known how Harper got adopted from India, and they never really had a conversation in their lives before that first awkward hang out.

We know the role smart phones will play in all this - essential, but rather routine; but what role will the parents and classmates play? This is arguably where sister Sarah's screenplay is less sure-footed; her writing is a bit sketchy sometimes. It's best at the utter awkwardness and off-the-wallness of the teen love dialogues. It captures the clumsy gossip and the diehard retro attitudes of teenagers: the way Harper gets called a "slut" while Tilly becomes one of the cool dudes. Due to all that and more, maybe they can't go on being a couple. The blurb reminds us that here also Time’s Up and Me Too are relevant, though the politics are not well worked out. Indeed this may seem routine; but the beauty is all in the nuances, to which the engaging young actors and the lush foliage and old porches of Portland contribute greatly, with what Mark Duplass has called the film's "delicate, quiet sweetness" telling a story "that is often told, but not often told well."

And moreover, right now in the midst of the pandemic, as Carol Cling points out in her review, the experience Young Hearts offers of "watching guileless, gawky, anxious kids endure history class, trade petty gossip, play video games, maneuver their way through packed parties, explore their sexual awakenings — even do their homework in their rooms — packs an unexpectedly poignant punch" - because none of this is happening any more, not at the moment, and high schoolers are basically losing several years of normal shared experience. So whatever happens between Harper and Tilly is golden, and to be cherished. In its details this familiar story is very much of our time - as it was, that is, till a year ago. For all its indie failings, let us give it a pass and relish its air of innocence and sweetness.

Young Hearts, 82 mins., debuted at Slamdance (Park City, Utah) Jan. 24, 2020, having more limited exposure at the Portland Film Festival in Sept. due to the pandemic. Release in select theaters and on VOD Feb. 12, 2021.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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