'Beneath the Harvest Sky' fails to break from formula
The movie doesn't want to be conventional about any of that, and it tries hard to shirk the Hollywood cocktail of teen angst mixed with love. Despite the effort, the results here are oddly business-as-usual.
The key romance is not between boy and girl but between hetero buds. These friends play out the classical form of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty from “On the Road”: the calm observer type who can't quit palling around with his irresponsible life-force chum.
Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) is the level-headed one, Casper (Emory Cohen) the wild man; they'll head off for Boston together after summer runs its course. The complications include Dominic's new interest in Emma (Sarah Sutherland — Kiefer's daughter), a girl he meets during harvest work, who is intent on college and can't fathom why Dominic would want to bum around Boston with his lunkhead friend.
There's also the fact that Casper's girlfriend (Zoe Levin) has just informed him she's pregnant. More generally troubling is Casper's tendency to get in fights and disappoint the people around him.
Dominic's gotten used to people asking him “Why do you hang around with this guy?” and he has a stock answer about Casper being the antithesis of the small-town boredom that prevails.
Co-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly go for a raw texture that shuns the well-scrubbed edges of the average teen picture; some scenes aim for a quasi-documentary style, others look partly improvised. The filmmakers haven't been able to avoid certain hallmarks of the genre, including third-act revelations and scenes of teachers offering subtext through literary analysis (S.E. Hinton's “The Outsiders,” in this case).
Emory Cohen's performance dominates the film; the young actor from “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a rangy kid, quick to ignite. His authentic explosiveness, a welcome break from the overall funk, can't lift this one out of the category of a well-intended nice try.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” (two stars)
During the potato harvest in Maine, two high-school buddies contemplate their future, as complications and melodrama ensue. The movie tries hard to be different from Hollywood coming-of-age fare, and Emory Cohen gives a live-wire performance, but it never amounts to more than a well-intentioned nice try.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language, subject matter
Opens: Friday at Sundance Cinemas in Seattle.
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