Teenage perks seen on the distant horizon

Missy (Taylor Richardson, center) and her friends wait to be allowed into the local nightclub.

By Richard Ades

It’s impossible to watch 18 to Party without thinking of The Breakfast Club. That’s because it, like John Hughes’s 1985 classic, is about a group of troubled teens alternately connecting and sparring with each other.

However, the new film by writer/director Jeff Roda is darker, both literally and otherwise. Gathering outside on an evening in 1984, its youths often target each other with verbal potshots (that threaten to turn into actual potshots after one of them produces a pellet gun). The hostility stems partly from the fact that they’re eighth-graders, which puts them in an age group that’s awkward for boys and perhaps even more so for girls.

That, in fact, is the theme of the film. More than children but not yet old enough to enjoy the perks they expect to gain in high school, they exist in a kind of restless limbo. Their not-yet-arrived status is particularly obvious on this particular night, when they’re forced to wait outside a small-town nightclub that won’t let them in unless space remains after their elders have been admitted.

While they look forward to high school, on the other hand, their view of the future is not entirely optimistic. The community has experienced a series of student deaths, including a pair of suicides that hit close to home. These, along with reports of UFO sightings and a far-off mass shooting, suggest that their future is far from safe or secure.

The long-absent Lanky (James Freedson-Jackson) pays a visit.

And then there’s Lanky (James Freedson-Jackson), younger brother of one of the recent suicide victims. After being away in an apparent mental institution because he committed an act that’s never spelled out, he’s returned for a visit, at least. His mercurial presence threatens to disrupt an evening that already feels dangerously unsettled.

One more similarity with The Breakfast Club is that all of the characters are played by actors who turn them into distinctive individuals. Besides Lanky, several stand out.

At the center of much of the intrigue is Shel (Tanner Flood), a shy kid whose home life has suffered following the arrival of a strict new stepfather. His best friend and mentor is Brad (Oliver Gifford), an alpha male who’s prone to flashes of anger due to unacknowledged challenges in his own life.

Amy (Alivia Clark) and Shel (Tanner Flood)

Among the girls, the popularity-seeking Missy (Taylor Richardson) and the fiercely unconventional Kira (Ivy Miller) attack each other with malice that’s probably fed by their own insecurities. Meanwhile, Amy (Alivia Clark) pops by occasionally to talk to Shel, who is obviously and bemusedly the target of her affection.

With help from music by the Alarm, Velvet Underground and other bands, the kids’ individual traumas are depicted so expertly that it’s too bad Roda chose to close the proceedings with what seems like a tacked-on ending. Otherwise, this is a satisfyingly atmospheric portrait of young teens facing the future with a combination of hope, angst and dread.

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)

18 to Party (no MPAA rating) is available from VOD outlets beginning Dec. 1.

Marital drama has horrific trappings

Allison and Rory O’Hara (Carrie Coon and Jude Law) are living uncomfortably beyond their means. (Photos courtesy of IFC)

By Richard Ades

Several times during The Nest, Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) is seen delivering a morning cup of coffee to his still-sleeping wife, Allison (Carrie Coon). The significance of the recurrent scene changes over time.

At first, it appears to show a thoughtful husband taking part in one of the comfortable rituals that mark a successful relationship. Later, it appears to say more about the wife. Does her tendency to sleep late symbolize her apparent ability to put off dealing with the problems that have long been developing in their marriage?

The first hint of trouble comes when Rory tells Allison they must leave their ritzy American home—which includes ample space for her to ply her trade as an equestrian instructor—and return to his native London. Things just aren’t working out here, he says, and besides, his old company is begging him to return (which, it turns out, is a lie).

Allison briefly complains that they’ve already moved several times for similar reasons, but she ultimately gives in. So, after shipping her favorite horse to the UK, she sets off for London with their two kids, teenage Samantha (Oona Roche) and 10-year-old Benjamin (Charlie Shotwell). There, Allison is surprised to learn that Rory has already leased a farm with a gigantic mansion worthy of landed gentry. This begins ringing belated alarm bells, particularly after she finds that Rory is allowing their bills to go unpaid.

Rory (Jude Law) has a contemplative moment.

Written and directed by Sean Durkin, who’s best known for 2011’s tense Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Nest often comes off as a thriller or even a horror film. Spooky music, baroque interiors and a horse’s terrified screams may even make you wonder whether the family’s new home is haunted. Both Samantha and Benjamin seem to suspect it is, the younger boy being particularly terrified.

Essentially, though, this is the tale of a family unraveling because it’s headed by a man who insists on chasing elusive fantasies of success. To the extent that the film itself succeeds, it’s because all four of the principal players are wonderful, starting with Law as a driven individual incapable of recognizing his own delusions and limitations.

To the extent the film fails, on the other hand, it’s because Durkin works harder at creating an atmosphere than he does at establishing relatable characters. He doesn’t make us care enough about these people, and he then compounds the problem by telling their tale in a leisurely manner.

The film somewhat makes up for its deficiencies with an ending that offers at least partial closure, but viewers should be aware that patience is required along the way.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

The Nest (rated R) is available from VOD outlets beginning Nov. 17.

Sports doc doesn’t live up to its name (but fans won’t care)

Exuberant fans cheer on the Eagles in a scene from Maybe Next Year. (Photo courtesy of Over-Under Philly LLC)

By Richard Ades

Though it’s riding high after playing a decisive role in the presidential election, Philadelphia often suffers from an inferiority complex. According to the new documentary Maybe Next Year, that’s because the birthplace of American democracy is now a blue-collar berg that languishes in the shadow of New York City.

That may help to explain why Philly was the site of that classic sports-underdog tale, Rocky. And in the documentary’s view, it definitely explains why the happiness of so many of its residents rises and falls with the success of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Director Kyle Thrash proves the point by focusing on several Philadelphians as they follow the NFL team through its eventful 2017-18 season. Black or White, married or single, retired or struggling to make a living, all are devoted to their team heart and soul. Over the years, that’s made it all the more painful when the “Birds” disappointed them.

“I love my Eagles, but they gotta feel the same for us,” superfan Shirley cries during one of her frequent calls to a sports radio show. “I can’t take it!”

Equally passionate is Bryant, who admits the team may serve as the “scapegoat” for his disappointment over his own failure to find a mate. But that doesn’t stop him from unloading his frustrations in R-rated YouTube videos. “Run the m—–f—— ball!” he shouts when the team throws pass after incomplete pass.

Then there’s Barry, who’s put his money where other fans’ mouths are. Though he and his wife had planned to move to Florida after he retired, they instead spent their savings building a huge Eagles “locker room.” Essentially a private sports bar with a two-story ceiling, multiple tables and a giant TV screen, it allows them to share the team’s games with an extended “family” of fellow fans.

Finally, there’s Jesse, perhaps the most pitiable of all the featured Eagles followers. He naturally wants to share his love of football with his young son, but the boy’s autism makes it hard for him to learn the fundamentals. Adding to Jesse’s frustration, his aging father is suffering from a brain tumor that may keep them from sharing the team’s upcoming games.

Rounding out Thrash’s portrait of Eagles fandom are scenes of drunken tailgate parties that prove to be nearly as dangerous as football itself, along with a church service that doubles as a pep rally for the hometown team.

As football aficionados doubtless have realized already, Thrash fortuitously filmed his documentary during a season that proves to be atypical for the perennially hard-luck Eagles. Nevertheless, it still provides fans with plenty of scares, including the injury-related loss of a godlike quarterback. The tension level is especially concerning to Barry’s doctor, who worries the former heart attack patient will get too worked up during games.

Maybe Next Year is a funny, occasionally touching and always entertaining look at a beloved team’s power to unite a community while giving purpose to its residents’ lives. Whether their devotion amounts to an unhealthy obsession or a harmless diversion is a question director Thrash doesn’t presume to answer.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Maybe Next Year is available beginning Nov. 10 through VOD outlets.