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last update 9.May.17
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Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk
dir Eric Stoltz
scr Tony DuShane
prd Kenneth Hughes
with Sasha Feldman, Paul Adelstein, Tara Summers, Rob Giles, Reed Diamond, Charlie Buhler, Nicholas Harsin, Lauren Lakis, Kit DeZolt, Kenneth Hughes, Rod McLachlan, Tegan West
harsin and feldman release US 12.May.17
17/US 1h38
Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk With bright visuals that give it a strongly satirical tone, this pitch-black comedy follows a teen trying to make sense of his physical urges in the context of his upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness. With his feature directing debut, Eric Stolz creates an engaging cycle of humour and drama, playing with situations that seem farcical but which have deeper resonance. And what emerges is a gentle dawning of understanding.

As a straight-laced 16-year-old in 1983 Oakland, Gabe (Feldman) is a favourite of Brother Miller (Diamond) but secretly thinks his church's harsh prohibitions on sex are counterintuitive to his burgeoning adolescence. He has a crush on Jasmine (Buhler), and turns to his drunken-musician uncle Jeff (Giles) for advice, unable to talk to his hyper-religious dad (Adelstein) or his best pal Peter (Harsin) about these things. Then after innocently attending a party, Gabe is cruelly "dis-fellowshipped" by the elders, which only helps him see the world and his own humanity from a more balanced perspective.

Being centred on a pubescent boy, the film is naturally obsessed with sex. But it also touches on religious people who present a wholesome front while hiding transgressions from anger issues to alcoholism. It's a clever way to highlight the dilemma for teens who see this contradiction, because all they can think about is getting married so they can have "lots of sex" with their wives. Screenwriter DuShane (adapting his autobiographical novel) clearly knows what he's writing about, and has a great time pulling at these threads.

The actors never letting these people turn into caricatures, which is quite a feat since the adults are rather outrageous types. But they always feel complex and truthful, offering commentary on the stereotypes rather than reinforcing them. And the teens are realistic too. Feldman is a likeable protagonist, effortlessly conveying Gabe's inquisitive, worried attitude, from the church activities to a day out in San Francisco with his wild cousin Karen (Lakis).

There's a lesson here about the importance of learning to look at your experience from the outside. Gabe knows he's not guilty, no matter what the elders say. And he sees their overreach as they declare Peter apostate for cutting his hair. There is also of course political relevance, although the ideas sit lightly within a story that feels organic and nostalgic. So while the movie's pace may feel a bit low key, it's continually underscoring its themes with complex ideas that challenge us to think too.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Alex Taylor
prd Nicola Bowen, Olivier Kaempfer
with Antti Reini, Alexa Davies, Lara Peake, Lucian Charles Collier, Tallulah Haddon, Steven Elder, Jack Winthrop, Kristof Gerega, Harry Jarvis
Davies release US Mar.16 sxsw,
UK 19.May.17
16/UK BBC 1h26

london film festival
Spaceship This film has more than enough visual style to give the audience something to look at, but without a compelling story or engaging characters it simply flutters in place, never going anywhere at all. There's a loose sense of teenage yearning that infuses every scene, but these people are so undefined that they never add up to anything. And there's virtually no plot either.

In Wales, Lucidia (Davies) lives with her Finnish archaeologist dad Gabriel (Reini) after the death of her mother, which may have been suicide. With her hair dyed in rainbow colours, and an elaborate Dirrty wardrobe, Lucidia is clearly art-minded. Her friend Tegan (Peake) looks a bit like her late mum, while her blue-haired friend Alice (Haddon) has a slave (Winthrop) who follows her around. Lucidia is with cute biker boy Like (Collier) when she vanishes in a flurry of lights. Was she abducted by aliens? Or is she just hiding from her emotional struggle?

Despite the too-loose structure, the cast is very good, offering fully fledged performances. These young people feel sharply realistic, despite the over-designed sets and costumes. But they can't make up for a script that feels like it didn't exist while they were inhabiting these roles in front of the camera. Dialog is vacuous and random, full of tediously pretentious philosophical musings that are meant to sound deep but are actually inane. And scenes don't start or stop, they just circle in the air with nothing to anchor them to a narrative.

Adapting his documentary short into a full-length feature, writer-director Taylor clearly has filmmaking talent. But since he never quite clicks into the meaning of his premise, nothing is conveyed to the audience beyond the eye-catching imagery and fantastical swirliness. A climactic underground rave with make-up that glows in UV lighting looks super cool. And the camera continually captures emotive facial expressions from the actors, even if they're not linked to actual emotions.

It's a real problem that the audience is unable to care about the central mystery simply because it contains no discernible detail or resonance. And when the characters are just quirky people wandering aimlessly through a series of inexplicable scenes, it's very difficult for a viewer to stay awake. There's plenty of skill on display here, but it really needs to be channeled into a proper narrative. Even if the structure is loose, there has to be something for the audience to connect with.

15 themes, language

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