In his debut film Some Freaks, writer/director Ian MacAllister-McDonald focuses on teenage misfits. Tagged as irredeemable outsiders in their Rhode Island high school, three seniors cope with indignation and hopelessness. Graduation brings the opportunity for re-invention, but playwright MacAllister-McDonald doesn’t provide his characters with the self-awareness to discuss their futures: his pared-down dialogue is strictly present-tense.
He prefers to gaze at the shambling romance of introverted Matt Ledbetter (Thomas Mann), taunted for the patch covering a missing eye, and the brassy, overweight Jill Delise (Lily Mae Harrington). As they grow closer, Matt’s twitchy, gay best friend, Elmo Moss (Ely Henry), who’s related to Jill, feels increasingly left out. None of them can articulate their simmering emotions, and the charm of MacAllister-McDonald’s casual observational approach wears thin.
Unspoken expectations and resentments boil over in predictable and dispiriting ways. Male characters are entrenched in cycles of self-pity: Matt defines himself through loss; Elmo continues to lust after a homophobic jock; and their golden boy classmate Patrick Keever (Lachlan Buchanan) recoils at the casual cruelty of his peers but does nothing about it.
The central story line involves Jill’s drastic weight loss, and while Harrington’s performance is a marvel – she conveys astuteness, resentment, triumph, and fear in a single expression – MacAllister-McDonald’s exploration of her complex body issues is reductive and belittling. Jill’s boisterous rebellion and sharp wit are presented as envy, and swapping her punk attire for blonde femininity is the grateful absorption of an outcast into the mainstream. It’s her body, not herself.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on August 4, 2017 by Good Deed Entertainment
First published in LA Weekly, 2017.
Some Freaks is available on Netflix