Lead image via Disney's 'Queen of Katwe'
Growing up ain’t easy. No matter where in the world a young person lives, or how cushy his or her life is, problems always pop up on the road to adulthood. For this week’s edition of our Netflix column, we’re spotlighting a variety of films that focus on the trials and tribulations of getting older and all that comes with maturation — from the routine to the extreme.
To start, we have the remarkable story of a Ugandan chess player in Disney’s Queen of Katwe, a film that focuses on a young person overcoming poverty and facing fear while entering uncharted terrain. In Trust, a teenage suburban girl falls prey to a conniving child molester, providing a reminder to parents and children alike to be vigilant of the dangers that exist in the digital age. Similarly, Audrie & Daisy is a documentary that explores how victims of sexual assault are often blamed for the trauma they experience.
Looking for something lighter? In Long Nights Short Mornings, an emotionally-stunted Casanova mistakenly enters what he thinks is a no-strings-attached relationship, only to find it comes at a cost. And as we see in the charming indie Tramps — a story about a guy and girl falling for each other as they race across NYC in search of a mysterious lost package — becoming an adult sometimes means letting go of what happened to us when we were younger.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Starring: Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo
Director: Mira Nair
Genre: Family, Sports, Drama, Biography
Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by an impressive Madina Nalwanga), a bright Ugandan girl who rose above her humble beginnings in an impoverished village to become a champion chess player.
As expected from a Disney production, there’s a high level of quality all around, from the acting (Lupita Nyong’o is the proud, strong-willed single mom, and David Oyelowo plays a kind-hearted local leader who mentors Phiona and other children) to the overall look of the film, which intimately captures the inner workings of the small community. Despite the imposing poverty, the village is as vibrant as the brightly-hued clothes worn by the inhabitants.
The overall message of the film is how chess can stimulate the mind. The teacher stresses to the kids that the game can better prepare them for life’s unexpected turns. Still, the children are unexpectedly intimidated when they leave their surroundings. Traveling abroad lets them see there is indeed a better life out there for them, but it also makes them feel caught in between worlds. In the end, however, the film is a testament to never giving up on your dreams.
Starring: Liana Liberato, Clive Owen, Catherine Keener
Director: David Schwimmer
Annie (Liana Liberato) is a 14-year-old girl with an online crush who she believes is just a few years older than her. Eventually Annie discovers the truth of who she’s been chatting with, but by then it’s too late as she is lured into a hotel room by a sleazeball (played convincingly by a creepy Chris Henry Coffey).
By now it’s well known that predators are a threat to kids on the internet. But that doesn’t make Trust any less unnerving. As this film demonstrates, even children from loving and caring homes can fall victims to shadowy criminals who are skillful in manipulation and cyberspace trickery that safeguards their true identities from authorities.
Friends star David Schwimmer directs this cautionary tale that at first looks very much like a typical made-for-TV movie, but turns into a far more distressing viewing experience. Schwimmer wisely cast an actress the same age as her character (Liberato’s performance is quite good), and Clive Owen’s vengeful dad illustrates the complications people face when talking about or processing something as heavy as sexual trauma.
Audrie & Daisy (2016)
Starring: Daisy Coleman, Paige Parkhurst, Darren White
Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Crime
15-year-old Audrie Pott committed suicide in 2012 after cell phone photos taken of her at a house party where she was sexually assaulted under the influence circulated at her California high school. Earlier that same year in Missouri, Daisy Coleman, a freshman in high school, and her friend Paige Parkhurst, an 8th grader, were raped in a basement after a night of heavy drinking.
In both cases, the assaults were not the end of the nightmare. For Audrie, being publicly shamed made her believe that her life was over. For Daisy and Paige, the courts did not serve proper justice due to small town politics, and in the aftermath they were left with a barrage of hateful messages on social media — victims being victimized all over again. Trying to blame the girls for being assaulted just because they were drinking is bad enough. But wait until you hear from the asshole local sheriff who thinks the girls did all this for attention and sticks up for the boys who committed the crimes.
Sexual assault is a serious problem and what happened to Audrie, Daisy, and Paige is, unfortunately, something that isn’t always reported. But as this documentary highlights, there are numerous survivors who are helping others who have been through similar trauma themselves.
Long Nights Short Mornings (2016)
Starring: Shiloh Fernandez, Helen Rogers, Cassandra Freeman, Ella Rae Peck
Director: Chadd Harbold
Long Nights Short Mornings could be described as a hipster version of Shame (2011), though such a description isn’t meant to be derisive. To be clear, James (Shiloh Fernandez) is not a sex addict like the one Michael Fassbender portrayed in Steve McQueen's feature. Or at least not yet. James is frequently on the hunt for sex, but makes it known that he doesn’t want commitment. Somewhat ironically, however, he slowly ends up in an emotional void. The act of sex becomes a crutch, something necessary to validate his own self-worth.
Like its main character, Long Nights is a detached look — accompanied by a cool indie soundtrack — at a long series of hook-ups and one night stands that are sometimes mildly amusing, other times uncomfortable to watch. Those craving an involved story won’t be satisfied with the repetitiveness. But the film, which is inspired by Bukowski's Women, possesses an undeniable energy and youthful confidence that’ll make you forgive its few pretentious moments.
Starring: Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten
Director: Adam Leon
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Tramps is sort of billed as a mystery-thriller involving two young adults frantically searching for a missing briefcase in and around New York. But in reality, the missing briefcase is nothing more than what Hitchcock called a "MacGuffin," a plot device to move the story along. That is to say, Tramps is not really about shady business deals, but about a budding relationship between two strangers who meet by odd circumstances.
The best thing this charming indie has got going for it is actors Grace Van Patten and Callum Turner. Van Patten has a knack for playing the quiet but strong type and Turner is effective as a nerd who can’t filter his thoughts. As they cautiously get to know each other, they also start to figure out some things about themselves.
Set against a lush summer atmosphere and working wonders with what had to be a small budget, Tramps would make a nice double feature with director Adam Leon’s other film, Gimme the Loot. Both movies feature characters on the cusp of becoming full-fledged adults. They are people with one eye on the future, one eye on the mess of emotions we all experience in our youth.