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Sundance 2016: ‘As You Are’ a promising and impressive feature debut

 

As You Are
Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison
USA, 2016

Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s As You Are follows a trio of misfit teenagers as they grow close during the early 90s. It’s an impressive feature debut that looks as though it was guided by a wisened director with many works under his belt. Deftly attuned to desire, As You Are creates an emotional thriller out of confusion, burgeoning identities, and sexual awakenings.

Jack (Owen Campbell) is introduced to Mark (Charlie Heaton) when his mother (Mary Stuart Masterson) starts dating his father. Shy Jack clearly wants to impress the dangerously cool Mark and to his surprise- they become quick friends with many shared interests. Accompanying them is Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), a girl that breaks up the testosterone and also throws some jealously into the mix. It’s astounding that the director was born around the height of Nirvana’s popularity yet is able to accurately resurrect the effects of Cobain’s death and evoke the atmosphere of the 90s with an energetic spirit that doesn’t feel cheap or diluted. The kids deal with the suffocating atmosphere of aggressively controlling guardians and a society that isn’t open enough to help them deal with their burgeoning sexual feelings in somewhat predictable ways. They skip school, smoke pot, shoot guns, and watch porn. All of this isn’t shocking, but it’s treated with an audacious and intense sense of discovery which comes down to the talent of the three leads and the director’s innovation. Overhead shots give us perspective on the the brevity of youth while when we’re alone with Jack and Mark- we see the subtle yet meaningful interactions between them. There are few moments that are as exhilarating in recent film history as when Mark offers to teach Jack how to kiss and the audience doesn’t know if it’s sincere or he’s just trying to mess with him. The tension within the loaded silence is electric.

Frequently interrupting the narrative is an interrogation room tape that gives away that something tragic happens between the teens and takes us out of the perfectly drawn intimacy of Jack and Mark’s moments together. Constantly reminding us that everything we see is fleeting and leading to something calamitous ends up dampening the excitement and mystery of As You Are’s overall feeling. However, whenever we do get back to the primary action, the audience is immersed by Owen Campbell and Charlie Heaton’s chemistry. Heaton’s essence is lively and magnetic while Campbell’s skillfully thoughtful glances give a sensitive credence to every scene. Amandla Stenberg interjects smartly spoken quips and nicely counteracts the heavy plot. As You Are is able to elicit profound sentiments without being perfect. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s keen eye and clever voice makes him one to watch out for.


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