I WAS GREETED AT THE DOOR by 2 overly excited dogs. They were sisters who my friends adopted when they were puppies. Being familiar with me, they were happy to see me because they knew I was the one who gave them body massages; well, at least that is what I hoped they thought. Whenever I would tell the two of them it was time for a doggie massage, the chocolate colored dog would lie down on her side, in preparation for her massage; the vanilla colored dog remained standing with this quizzical look on her face as she continued to watch me. I would have to gently hold her as I brought her down onto her side and even then, she would try to get back up. It was only when I started rubbing her side that she would calm down and relax, allowing me to continue my ministrations. The other dog did nothing but wait there for me to massage her. It was quite comical. This was not the only difference between the sisters. It was easy to fake out the vanilla colored sister. I could pretend to throw one of their toys across the room and the vanilla sister would run down the length of the room looking for the toy. The other dog was too smart and would stay in place with this look of anticipation on her face, as if telling me to throw the toy already. Two dogs from the same litter, yet so different. I REALLY WAS NOT SURPRISED BY one dog being smarter than the other. The same type of thing has happened in human families, I have noticed. I knew two brothers who had 4 years difference between their ages. The younger brother was the smarter one who got good grades and achievement awards. The older brother’s school grades were a mishmash of passing and failing grades. He also got in trouble a lot. Now you would think 2 boys being raised in the same house under the same conditions would be more similar, but it was not the case. I have always been curious about this disparity between family members. There is this family I know where the parents only had a high school education. Their focus was staying employed; they did not read anything or try to learn something new. Their only son received zero encouragement from them since his aspirations for higher education were a foreign concept. I do not know whether it was despite or because of his parents, but early on he displayed high intelligence which was quickly noted by his teachers. Where his parents could barely write a clear sentence, he became the editor of his elementary school’s newspaper, besides being a winner in state driven English contests. This type of dynamic is something I find so fascinating, which is why I was intrigued with this dramatic film. WHILE ATTEMPTING TO GET AN INTERVIEW lined up, Yale law student J.D. Vance, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Kings of Summer), found himself being pulled into his Appalachian family’s drama back home in Ohio. With Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes) as Bev, Glenn Close (The Wife, Alfred Nobbs) as Mamaw, Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics, The Girl on the Train) as Lindsay and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals) as Usha; this movie based on a true story was all about the acting. I thought the cast was outstanding and felt Glenn could get nominated for her role. The story is surprising I grant you; however, I thought the script was not as strong as it needed to be to support the story. There was an element of predictability and at times I felt there was too much melodrama inserted into the scenes; I would have preferred learning more about each character on a deeper level. Despite these misgivings, my interest did not waiver as I observed the dynamics in this generational family story.
2 ½ stars
Two of my constant companions during my adolescence were awkwardness and self-consciousness. Besides a case of acne and dealing with a body mass larger than my frame, I suffered from thick hair sprouting up on my face. I know I am not the only one who had to deal with these changes, but what made me want to be invisible was my dermatologist–that is what the state license crookedly hanging on his office wall said he was able to practice. I was constantly suffering from a rash of red bumps that kept appearing on my neck. The dermatologist determined they were flat warts and treated them with a cauterizing needle. In other words, he would burn them off my neck. I had a schedule of appointments where I would have this done and return to school with my neck looking like it had been attacked by a swarm of bees. You can understand why I wanted to disappear. Adding salt to the wound, I found out a few years later they were not flat warts, just ingrown hairs. I could sympathize with the young adults wanting to disappear in this quirky film. Fed up with the lack of privacy from his sarcastic father Frank, played by Nick Offerman (Sin City, 21 Jump Street), Joe came up with a plan to run away to a place where he could set the rules. Agreeing to go with Joe, played by Nick Robinson(Melissa & Joey-TV) was his best friend Patrick, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8, Alabama Moon). Joining the best friends was the oddball Biaggio, wildly played by Moises Arias (Nacho Libre, Hannah Montana-TV). Fitting somewhat into the coming of age genre, what set this movie apart were the adults in the cast. Besides NIck’s wickedly good performance there was Megan Mullally (Smashed, Will & Grace-TV) and Marc Evan Jackson (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Slammin’ Salmon) as Patrick’s parents Mr. & Mrs. Keegan. I enjoyed the out of kilter vibe in this Sundance Film Festival nominated comedy and if for nothing else, the story lightened up my mood from recalling my adolescence. Stay for the credits.