Most of us grew up with at least one story of a plucky newcomer who shows up out of nowhere and brings light and warmth to everyone’s lives, and it’s about time it was updated for the 21st century. Enter Alice Junior (★★★☆☆), a hip, glitzy coming-of-age story from Brazilian director Gil Baroni.
Blogger Anna Celestino Mota steals the show as Alice, a “carefree and spoiled” teen Youtube star looking for her first kiss. Alice is living a charmed life with a supportive father in their beautiful family home in one of Brazil’s most glamorous beachside cities. She’s popular and has a substantial social media following, driven home in the film’s chaotic opening minutes as we’re introduced to her high-energy YouTube channel.
When her father moves them to the country’s rural southeast, however, Alice balks at having to go to a Catholic school that seems “stuck in time.” As much as Mota plays up her schtick as a high-strung, melodramatic teen, Alice barely exaggerates when it comes to the stark contrast between her life in Recife and her new environs. The small, rural school is grim, and she is treated with more than the usual suspicion that might otherwise greet a transfer student. The adults in the school are not much better, though it is a lot of fun to watch the actors ham things up as sour, reactionary school administrators.
Alice views her new circumstances as a temporary setback to her ultimate goal — to have her first kiss. She won’t be discouraged, but she takes it as a given that she has to first win over her new neighbours and build up a circle of friends. Despite the emotional and physical bullying she endures (and pushes back against), her relentless optimism and ability to absolutely radiate charisma draw her classmates towards her and she forms some solid friendships with the other students.
The film’s tone is as glitzy and upbeat as its titular character, with colorful animations and a soundtrack full of hip pop songs designed to dazzle audiences even as it gives them the warm fuzzies. Like most coming-of-age stories, Alice Junior is deliberately and affectionately over-the-top. It shows a sincere appreciation for the inner lives of teens and embraces Gen Z aesthetics and sensibilities to great effect, and while it may not closely resemble anyone’s real-life story, many viewers will likely see themselves reflected in Alice’s strength, resolve and sheer love of life.
Alice Junior screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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