Growing up problems? Crank up the Slayer!!!
13-year-old Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is an angsty troublemaker that loves to start fires, run from cops, and teach his little brother (Deke Garner) how to be just like him. This mostly has to do with the fact that they’re mother just passed away, but it also has to do with the fact that the two boys’ father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), is hardly ever around. And even when he is, it’s usually with a beer in his hand and a slurred-speech. Needless to say, they’re a pretty messed-up family that’s just barely getting by. But that all changes when child services come around and takes Jacob’s little brother away from him and puts him with their Aunt Pam (Juliette Lewis). This pisses Jacob off to no end and he starts to act out a whole lot more, although he now also focuses more of his attentions onto his passion: Motor-crossing. Also, Hollis starts to undergo a little transformation of his own by not just putting down the bottle, but also when it comes to getting his kids all back in one house together.
Most coming-of-agers that mean well, tend to do well for me. Not because I was once a kid, but because it seems so hard to write childhood, and to do so in a non-judgmental way, that it always earns a pass from yours truly. Problem is though, there is such a thing as seeing the same type of coming-of-age flick, being told to me, time and time again. Though it might be dressed up with a different cast, title and narrative, the story still remains the same: Growing up is hard to do.
This is obviously nothing new to express in the world of film, but where I think writer/director Kat Candler slips up at times is by not really delivering anything new or intriguing about this idea. Sure, we get that growing up, especially when done inside a broken home, is downright difficult and can either make or break a person into being who they are for the rest of their lives, but is that it?
To me, it’s not that Candler’s film isn’t well-done, it’s just so typical.
You can’t tell me that as soon as we saw Aaron Paul’s character leaving his home with a six-pack of booze, flowers, and going straight to the side of a random street, that he wouldn’t be going to visit his obviously-deceased wife’s burial-spot? Or, better yet, that when our lead character starts to get involved with what seems to be his passion, that he’ll do so with anger and hate, only to then not really do well with it all? And, honestly, how easy was it to pin-point the moment that the tubby kid of the group would start to become the overly excessive and vulgar one?
It’s all here and it’s all been done before. That’s not to say that movies like this can’t bring something neat or enjoyable to the mix of others in its same genre, but Hellion feels like it’s treading familiar-waters that don’t really feel like they need to be touched in the first place. Though, where Hellion works the most is with the performances and how each and everyone of the cast-members dig deep into their characters, giving off a very raw feel that kept me watching, even when the story seemed to just disappoint me and go into predictable spots.
By now, I think everybody knows Aaron Paul’s a quality actor and is able to bring any type of fiery energy to whatever he does and as Hollis, he’s very good. But it’s not because he’s constantly excited or yelling “betch” all over the place, it’s because he actually dials it down. Hollis is the kind of deadbeat dad character we get in these kinds of movies, except that he’s written a bit better as not being an asshole, as much as just a troubled dude who needs to pay a bit more attention to his kids. Because of this small detail, Hollis seems more like a little lost puppy who, for better and for worse, is doing the best with this “fatherhood” thing that he can. It may not always work for the guy, but the effort is there and that’s what matters the most.
Anyway, what Paul does so well here is that he channels all of the sadness this character clearly has, and keeps it all in. He never really breaks away and loses his total mind, so much so as that you can tell he’s about to crack open at any moment. The same goes for Josh Wiggins as Jacob, who has more of a showier-role here, but is still believable enough that it makes me wonder just how much of what he was doing is actually acting, or is just him being a kid, plain and simple. Regardless of whether or not he’s actually reading a script, Wiggins still gives off this tense feel to a character who, honestly, was already brimming with it early on. Wiggins, right here and now, is a young talent that I’m interested in seeing what he has next on his small plate.
But the one I really was impressed by here was Juliette Lewis as Pam, the well-meaning, but incredibly hated sister of the deceased mother. See, what Lewis does so well here, that she doesn’t quite do in many other movies, is that she dials most of her expressiveness back. She’s like Paul in that, whenever you see one of them show up in something, you know that you can expect them to be jumping up and down with nonstop energy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as much as it’s just a thing I’ve noticed after having watched these two in many movies.
For Lewis though, she’s already given the hard task of making a character like Pam seem sympathetic in nature, even though every character in the movie is clearly against her from the start. She’s made out to be like some sort of stuck-up, prude-ish woman that just wants to ruin this family’s little unit, but in reality, she’s trying to keep them together and in it for the long haul, even if that means some line of separation has to be made for the time being. You feel bad for Pam because you know she’s doing the right thing, it’s just that everyone around her is so hell bent on getting back to normal, that she’s made out to be the villain. It’s not hard to feel bad for Pam, the character, and that’s not just to do with the situation her character is written into, as much as it’s Lewis’ need to back-off and play it straight-laced, rather than as a woman who so desperately wants a child of her own and will do anything to make that dream a reality.
She’s the real revelation of this movie. It’s just a shame that she wasn’t thrown in a better one.
Consensus: If you’ve seen a Southern coming-of-age drama in the past five or six years, most likely, you’ve seen Hellion already, except with a few very good performances worth checking out.
5 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images