The Rainbow Kid is the debut feature film from writer/director Kire Paputts. The film is a wistful story of a young man with Down syndrome’s loss of innocence as he strikes out across Ontario to prove his self-sufficiency. What ensues is an enjoyable, if somewhat flawed film featuring an engaging performance by its lead, Dylan Harman.
The Rainbow Kid tells the story of Eugene (Dylan Harman), a teenager with Down syndrome who lives in a dumpy Toronto apartment with his sickly mother. Eugene’s life sucks; the school bully picks on him during the day and he returns home every night to his bedridden mother. Eugene is fascinated with rainbows; he perceives them as a symbol of hope and joy and often draws or reads about them to lift his spirits during his most troubled times. When an eviction notice arrives on his door at the same time that his mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, Eugene’s infatuation with rainbows shifts to an obsession, and he goes on the run in order to prove his independence by finding the pot of gold at the end of a literal rainbow.
Despite the colorful name, The Rainbow Kid isn’t the light-hearted, whimsical adventure that the film’s title and quirky soundtrack initially leads the viewer to believe, the film is actually a dark coming of age tale. Writer and director Kire Paputts places his central character into a brutal world, and then repeatedly puts him in situations that punish him for being innocent. Paputts loads the film with manipulative, self-serving scumbags looking for an opportunity to prey on Eugene’s innocence, and the audience looks on as the cruel world tests his resilience.
Paputts goes to great lengths to ensure that the viewer understands that growing up and becoming self-sufficient comes with a loss of innocence. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t use any form of subtlety to get its point across. Over the course of Eugene’s adventure he is is involved in three and a half robberies (he thwarts one), bullied, spoken down to and manipulated by a pornographer. Eugene is involved in so many acts of crime that his adventure becomes a darker version of Forest Gump.
Eugene traverses through a world where people are either great or terrible and there are no moral grey areas. In order to get a point across, movies don’t need to send every message hurtling at the audience at 100 mph. The film would be better served had Paputts not used such broad depictions of good and bad to convey Eugene’s tribulations. Eugene comes face to face with extreme forms of treachery so often that his circumstances become ludicrous. The Rainbow Kid either doesn’t give the audience enough credit to understand subtlety and nuance or prefers to take storytelling shortcuts. Either way, the chaos that engulfs Eugene makes what began as a grounded story go off the rails.
Dylan Harman’s performance binds the film together. Eugene is present in nearly every scene, and Harman’s charm and charisma ensures that the audience is always engaged. Harman plays Eugene as a cagey young man, and it’s fascinating watching the character’s innate ability to sense threats and then outmaneuver them. Julian Richings also stands out with his all too brief appearance as Elvis Grimes, a washed up Toronto rocker. Grime’s bluster and swagger are the perfect compliments to Eugene’s naiveté. There is a chemistry between the two of them and their short time together onscreen leaves a lasting impression after the film is over.
Paputt’s experience as a documentary filmmaker pays off in a major way as his keen eye and excellent shooting style make The Rainbow Kid a joy to watch. Eugene’s adventure takes him through Toronto’s urban sprawl as well as across Ontario’s lonely highways and Paputts beautifully frames every shot along the way. Paputts impressively captures the mundane aspects of rural Ontario yet still manages to make Eugene’s journey feel epic in scale.
The Rainbow Kid is a frustrating but enjoyable film. An egregious moment of violence in the third act temporarily derails the movie, but Paputts is able to settle down and get everything back on track by the time the film wraps. Had Paputts infused the film with more nuance, The Rainbow Kid could have been great. Despite its simplistic depiction of human ugliness, The Rainbow Kid is a gripping film from a promising director, featuring a solid performance from its young lead.