The Wise Kids Screen 75 of 7 reviews

The Wise Kids

2011

The Wise Kids Poster
  • One of its protagonists is a 14-year-old boy who is coming to the realization that he is gay; he is played by Tyler Ross, in a lovely, open performance; we vividly see a new identity being born over the course of the film, the changes manifesting on his face and body. Both in this and Henry Gamble, Cone depicts ensembles of Evangelical Christian characters with great sympathy and generosity — something rarely if ever seen in cinema.

  • Sexuality and spirituality make for oddly natural bedfellows in . . . The Wise Kids. Equally generous to all of its characters in a way that seems borderline radical for an American indie, this is a becalmed work about roiling emotions. Perhaps we’ve seen other films that follow the tumultuous transitional years of teenagers, preparing to leave their provincial towns behind and shuttle off to college, but Cone is particularly observant, and his narrative is remarkable in its specificity.

  • The movie refuses to be loud, or shocking, or controversial. It would have been so easy, and probably tempting, to humiliate some of its characters or highlight their hypocrisy in more obviously cathartic ways (think American Beauty or even Happiness). But director Stephen Cone treats his subjects very delicately and the sense of discrete creepiness and melancholia that he crafts for his story, with the help of an outstanding cast, is nothing short of remarkable.

  • It suffers from a theater workshop-y tendency to rest too long on pauses and silences to convey dramatic heft. But the blunder is ultimately overshadowed by Cone’s excellent young actors, particularly Torem, burrowing deeply into her character’s zealotry and anguish about being left behind. And there are several moments in The Wise Kids that impressively upend cliché, especially among the flawed adults in the high school seniors’ lives.

  • Instead of indicting a repressive and closed-minded hegemony (and thus implicitly celebrating the epicurean, worldly alienation of the big city), Cone and his talented young actors highlight the realistically thoughtful interior and social struggles of these protagonists as they approach escape velocity from this simultaneously restrictive and virtuously ecstatic moral order.

  • The characters’ emotional landscapes are subtly drawn and equally subtly played out; his camera is acutely aware of his actors’ facial changes, or the shift of a hand or arm to connote unspoken feelings. The reality that such a traditional Christian environment represses open expressions of sexual desire serves the film’s interests well: A kind of Chekhovian sensibility governs “The Wise Kids,” in that what is inferred, or indirectly suggested, connotes enormous subconscious emotional pressures.

  • Strong at illustrating the pressures—external and, more crucially, internal—that exist within any fervently religious enclave, Cone’s drama is empathetic but obvious.

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