SXSW 2012: ‘Kid-Thing’ takes an anthropological approach to the coming-of-age tale

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Written by David Zellner
Directed by David Zellner
USA, 2012

Kid-Thing is a coming of age fable. That’s the filmmakers’ phrasing, not mine, and while it is surprisingly apt, the filmmakers forgo many of the customs and pitfalls of either genre to craft a wholly unique and pleasantly odd character study.

The kid in question here is young Annie (newcomer Sydney Aguirre), a circumstantial orphan living with her deadbeat dolt of a father, Marvin (Nathan Zellner). While he stumbles through his persistent hangover of a life, Annie is left alone to explore–that is, throw shit at–the shattered developments and forgotten vistas of rural Texas.

This isn’t much of a talkie. There are roughly four conversations in the film, and half of them descend into cyclical meditations on rubber and glue. Much of Kid-Thing is a catalogue of Annie behaving like only an angry, abandoned child can. But it is a spot on portrayal, and Aguirre deserves enormous praise for bringing Annie’s pain and frustration to light in touching and sometimes hilarious ways. Her behavior, whether it is chronically shoplifting or chipping away at a moist, dead tree trunk, is honest and familiar. But the filmmakers keep a knowing distance. It is a clinical anthropology of childhood whimsy to, say, Tree of Life’s fluid poetry–but it is accurate, and cutting.

Kid-Thing maintains a steady, journalistic integrity concerning the depiction of Annie. The surrounding film, though–and this includes the rest of cast (basically the Zellner brothers)–exists in a state of hysterical realism. It flirts with ideas of magic and sorcery, but instead of feeling fantastical, it mostly feels like we are experiencing the world as our protagonist’s unreliable mind abstracts it. As the broadly drawn buffoons, witches, and/or weirdos that she encounters, the adult cast here is game.

The film won’t hurl itself at you. You’re expected to bring some experience and curiosity and nostalgia to the table. In the early going you will have to rely on the beautiful shooting and quirky characters and trust it to unveil the engrossing, unsettling tale of an abandoned child fitfully attempting to reach out to the world around her. This is small cinema, which is not to every person’s tastes, but given a limited budget and one hardass looking girl, the Zellner brothers brought one tragic Texan childhood to life.

– Emmet Duff

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