Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!] Saturday, 10/22/2011, 1:00 PM Feature presentation, $12 at Lisner Auditorium
Stephen Cone’s The Wise Kids is a sweet, Southern, slice-of-life masterpiece that’s just gay enough to have a place in Reel Affirmations. But it could have a place anywhere, even if it’s not an obvious box-office blockbuster.
But where a blockbuster may have boom, The Wise Kids has more heart than a hug from Mom.
Bringing that heart, primarily, are the kids of the title, Brea (Molly Kunz), Laura (Allison Torem) and Tim (Tyler Ross), who will soon leave for college. The movie begins with an April rehearsal of a passion play in the Charleston, S.C., church all three attend. Here we get the basic breakdown: Tim is the earnest, all-American, possibly gay kid. Laura wants you to know that her God is an awesome God. Like, so, really, just totally so awesome! Brea, the pastor’s daughter, is starting to feel budding skepticism, which she delivers as an observation rather than a criticism when asking Tim whether he questions the faith they’ve inherited from their parents: ”They could’ve taught us anything and we would’ve believed it.”
The performances alone are stunning, particularly from so many less-familiar faces. (If the acting talent in this film could be hooked up to the power grid, it would solve any fuel crisis.) Torem just about steals every scene she’s in, and the earnestness she lets pour out of Laura is masterful. She gets the character just right, but then fills her with something more that shields her from caricature. If Laura may be mocked, it certainly isn’t by Torem. The same could be said for Stephen Cone — as director, as writer, and as Austin, the closeted church music director. Gay audiences will immediately recognize Austin as one of the tribe, even if Austin and his wife, Elizabeth, played with touchingly subtle sensuality by Sadieh Rifai, do not. Again, Cone gives his own character so much humanity, he cannot be mocked.
Cone, however, has more to offer, cutting a scene that so much as a misplaced hand might have you on the edge of your seat. Cone’s timing is perfect. His cast is superb. And the heart of his story is too big to stay on a two-dimensional screen, so you’re bound to take some home with you.
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