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The early 90s grunge trend saw a swift and sweeping change in teen culture with the movement giving voice to a whole generation of young people with powerfully emotive music from highly-driven artists that before it was stolen and commercialized brought great passion to many who needed to know there were others just like them. Of those bands, Nirvana was perhaps the culture’s most provocative with their lead singer Kurt Cobain the movement’s de facto iconoclast.
As You Are borrows a bit of the title of a popular song by Nirvana and sets the film in the the same era as when grunge took hold. It follows mainly three teens, the first of who we meet is Jack (Owen Campbell) a gangly long-haired loner who has no friends and lives with his single mom Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson). She’s just beginning a relationship with Tom (Scott Cohen) a former Marine turned security guard who has a son named Mark (Charlie Heaton), who finds he has a lot in common with Jack, the two becoming fast friends along with Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), a girl and fellow classmate that is not quite of the same background but is drawn to their kindness and authenticity. All of these characters are entangled in their relationships and each other but also, as we come to learn early, a police investigation because one of them is dead.
Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, in his feature film debut, As You Are starts with the two distant figures walking into the woods where moments later, we hear a gunshot. It is the catalyst for the rest of the film as we try to discover who they are and why it happened. We realize quickly that everything we are seeing is in flashback as the film is regularly interrupted by grainy police video tape of the cast being interviewed by mostly unseen detectives, though we soon notice that one of them is conspicuously absent. The film delves deep into the three teens, especially the two boys who as time passes hints at an attraction that comes as much a surprise to us as it does to them, though their seemingly non-sexual interest in the lovely Sarah is a clue all its own.
Complications arise though in more than a couple ways, with both how the boys take to skipping school to the way Mark’s father treats them, which leads to a separation with even larger consequences. Joris-Peyrafitte keeps a sure hand in revealing the film’s secrets and is clearly looking to suspend audience expectations about the power of friendship and the challenges of attraction. He is careful to layer the adults in the film with as much presence as the teens, giving great credence to scenes that truly serve as hinges in the outcomes. A particularly harrowing moment comes when the three kids are caught watching a porno tape.
As You Are is a tremendous accomplishment, it’s hyper-realized state of tension and frayed emotions signal a confidence that is rare in such young filmmakers – Joris-Peyrafitte was 23 at the time of the film’s release. While connecting the dots is not always easy, he wisely uses the grunge movement and Cobain’s untimely death not as exploitive excuses but as honest markers throughout that help define the times but also the state of minds for these boys. As You Are has its flaws, with a long run time and some overly-directed moments but nonetheless is a challenging film well worth exploring.
Movie description: As You Are is 2016 drama about the relationship between three teenagers as told through disparate confessions in a police investigation.
Director(s): Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Actor(s): Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg