Film Review: Some Freaks

First-time writer-director Ian MacAllister-McDonald brings a welcome sense of psychological complexity to this tale of outcasts in love and other disasters.
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High school is supposed to be the proving ground in which you forge your future self. For the three Rhode Island misfits of Some Freaks, it’s more like a gauntlet to be run, spiked with bullying pranks, mean-spirited taunts and social ostracization. Parents, teachers and other authority figures are virtually absent from the picture. What remains is a harsh pecking order founded on perceived normality, ruthlessly policed by those at the top of the heap. Only the film’s tentative coda suggests the possibility of tenderness and maybe even a little forgiveness.

We first meet gangly Matt (Thomas Mann) when another student swipes the eye patch he wears as the result of a childhood accident, earning him the sobriquet “Cyclops.” Matt’s one friend is Elmo (Ely Henry), a bespectacled Jonah Hill-type sidekick, still resolutely in the closet about his sexuality, except around Matt, whom he regales with graphic fantasies involving the school’s star basketball player (John Thorsen). After meeting not-quite-cute over a fetal pig in biology class, Matt soon finds himself drawn to Jill (Lily Mae Harrington), Elmo’s newly arrived relative from the West Coast, a plus-sized punk rocker with two-toned hair and multiple piercings.

First-time writer-director Ian MacAllister-McDonald eschews the simplistic depiction of his titular freaks as nothing more than misunderstood underdogs. Life’s buffetings have left their mark on these characters, literally and figuratively, leaving them defensive and more than a little self-destructive. Another trait they share is the disconcerting habit of blurting out harsh “truths” about each other whenever they happen to feel cornered, then almost immediately regretting it.

The interactions between the threesome are, as a result, undergirded by a skein of falsehoods and manipulations. Matt misleads Jill about where he lives, ashamed of the modest house he shares with his older sister (Marin Ireland), a struggling single mother. Matt and Jill initially keep their budding romance a secret from Elmo. And, until Elmo spills the beans during a blowout with Matt, Jill remains tightlipped about events back home that led to her being shipped off across country.

At this point, the film skips ahead six months. Matt prepares to fly to the West Coast for a reunion with Jill at her college campus. In the interim, both have undergone significant changes, and they may have altered the very things that attracted them to each other. Some Freaks asks some tough questions about attraction and identity, belonging and being outcast, and the price some people pay for wanting what they haven’t got. Matt’s attempts to recreate the old Jill, including a disturbingly staged bit of force-feeding, are bizarrely quixotic and clearly doomed to failure.

Also on campus is a character from high school who until now has merely haunted the periphery of the film: popular hunk Patrick (Lachlan Buchanan). Patrick’s looks and behavior suggest a certain other Patrick (with the last name Bateman), especially for as long as his motivations for repeatedly asking Jill out seem unclear. Ultimately, and ironically enough, he proves to be just another of the film’s freaks, trapped between his social persona and the notion that he’s somehow different from the other popular kids. Emblematic of this is the time he tries, less than successfully, as it turns out, to bond with Jill over their mutual interest in literature.

The film’s finale seems to be building toward some apocalyptically awful fate for each of its leads. It’s in this final stretch, as well, that the influence of executive producer Neil LaBute is felt most keenly. But MacAllister-McDonald finds comparatively minor-key ways to tie up each plot strand, avoiding the unrelenting unpleasantness of events in, say, In the Company of Men. One unintended consequence of this maneuver is that the film doesn’t quite stick its landing, leaving you feeling a bit like the final few pages have been torn out of an otherwise excellent short story.

Some Freaks is a far cry from John Hughes. In style and tone, if not in content, it feels closer to Antonio Campos’ Afterschool. Most of the film’s obvious dramaturgical contrivances—conveniently overheard conversations, the fact that Patrick ends up at the same college as Jill, and a few other credulity-stretching coincidences—doubtless can be put down to MacAllister-McDonald’s background as a playwright. Then again, the psychological acuity with which he delineates his characters more than makes up for these relatively minor lapses.

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