A24 has, at this point, proven to distribute wonderful films full of emotion. With Lean on Pete, A24 and director Andrew Haigh leave the smiles at the door and gut-punched me for the rest of the week.
This film, written by Haigh based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, is the coming-of-age tale of Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) growing up far quicker than he ever thought imaginable. He lives with his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel). He’s a womanizer — he sleeps with a woman who’s still kinda in a relationship — but at his core is the love for his son amidst him and his wife’s separation Although, financial woes keep Charley and Ray from escaping the lower-class lifestyle we’re used to seeing in movies: a rundown home that has a lack of food and living space.
Charley has a certain affinity for horses after jogging past a track one afternoon. There’s a sense of wonder in Charley’s eyes, but his father never takes it seriously. One night, Ray gets viciously attacked by that-girl-I-mentioned-above’s boyfriend. This spooks the young man, and his coming-of-age story begins.
I’m fond of actor Charlie Plummer is in this film. His emotion, the ability to showcase his heart on his sleeve — it’s all so wonderful and truly is the biggest reason why this script executes so well. I found Plummer gluing together a ton of simple, innocent moment and some other moments that hold more weight. On the surface, this is a young boy challenged with a fast pass to adulthood, but looking deeper you begin to notice that everything along Charley’s path either comes and goes, or — if I can put it bluntly — is tainted by death. The 18-year-old is on a level not many teens can reach.
Veteran actor Steve Buscemi‘s performance as horse trainer and the foul-mouthed Del is certainly welcomed. I love how little his character holds back. He plays a fatherly figure role during a time in Charley’s life, and there’s a sharp turn that their relationship takes, which surprised me. I do love actor Chloë Sevigny‘s harderned-yet-soft approach to Charley. She is tough but understands that he’s just a kid, so she provides him with life lessons whether he felt they were unfair or not.
I found Haigh’s decision to shoot in natural lighting and environments a huge plus. Lean on Pete needed to match its leading man’s visceral tone, and each setting felt hot, humid and uncomfortable. That may sound unappealing, but there’s a sense of appreciation I had for each shot and how delicately the camera moved from scene to scene.
I found myself trying to look for the diamond in the rough through the midway point of this movie, but…there is none. I don’t mean that negatively, though! Where most stories pullback and become happy-go-lucky, Lean on Pete does not. This is not for those who can’t stomach, well, the rougher edges around life. During one sequence, I nearly choked on my spit due to my shock at one plot turn.
Although, in the midst of a great performance and solid story, the pacing towards the last half of the film begins to waver. Where the story should have progressed, it didn’t and rather chose to stay in the mud, lingering on a single moment for too long. This isn’t always bad if done well, but there’s a feeling of the story going in circles almost too often. This distracted from the main reason we’re alongside Charley: to see him grow. Even if he’s growing over the course of a couple of months, “growth” is the key word. One too many times did I ask myself, “A-are we even close to moving along?” The sense of direction felt a bit muddled as we trotted into the third act.
There’s a sense of tender love and care with Lean on Pete, however. It isn’t without its faults, but this movie is going to be one that you watch once and grow an appreciation for the life you live. Whether you watch in an air-conditioned theater or at home, you’ll realize that whatever stress you previously had might be nothing compared to Charley’s rough path to adulthood. Will I see this film again? Maybe not. But that speaks to how powerful some of its moments were.
Yeah, I’m gonna need a minute.
I attended a press screening of this film for purposes of this review, thanks to A24 and Allied Integrated Marketing. ❤
Lean on Pete is rated-R, runs 2 hours and a minute, and gallops into theaters on April 27, 2018.