Editor’s Note: Electrick Children opened in limited release on March 8th
A single alluring chord is our introduction to Electrick Children, its mysterious aura as it rings over a black screen—gradually giving way to the sound of static and crashing waves playing over the opening credits—a fittingly aural introduction to a film deeply concerned with sound as a narrative tool as well as a technical. The noise is stopped—or rather happens to stop as a tape recorder button is pressed—by the hand of Mr Will, brother of Rachel, whose back fills the screen as she sits before her father for an interview to confirm her righteousness on the occasion of her 15th birthday. They are Mormons, making all the more difficult Rachel’s later discovery that she is pregnant, and subsequent claim that the father is the voice she heard on a cassette tape secretly listened to in the dead of night.
Thomas reaps ample comic reward from both aspects of this culture shock scenario, the siblings staring at the bright city lights with as much gobsmacked awe as they receive from the dumbfounded urbanites.
Making her debut as a feature writer/director, Rebecca Thomas certainly chooses an interesting subject to pursue in Mormonism and teenage pregnancy; she handles the former with commendable grace, never sneering at the chosen lifestyle of the religion’s adherents as many might when Rachel and Mr Will—wrongly accused of impregnating his sister—flee together to nearby Las Vegas. Thomas reaps ample comic reward from both aspects of this culture shock scenario, the siblings staring at the bright city lights with as much gobsmacked awe as they receive from the dumbfounded urbanites. It would be easy for her script to dwell too heavily on scenes of such surprise; it’s to her credit—and the film’s benefit—that the development of these characters takes precedence.
That opening scene, where Thomas’s clever sound editing blurs the line between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, is a terrific beginning to the film, working with the interesting introduction of the protagonist to immediately showcase the director’s impressive cineliteracy. The ensuing film, disappointingly, never quite capitalises on the playful promise exhibited in that opening; sound is instead consigned to a more conventional role, a particular song—that heard on the “impregnating” tape—becoming the driving force of the narrative as Rachel searches for the singer. Opting for a more accessible means of storytelling, Thomas nonetheless makes good on every opportunity to showcase her talents, her steady pacing guiding the film toward its emotional payoff, her intimate shooting style complimenting the performances of her cast.
It’s a conceit of the narrative to withhold the true identity of the father from the audience, leaving us to guess not just this, but also whether Rachel genuinely believes her own claim. Here is where Garner excels, hers a deceptively layered performance that might be viewed in any number of ways.
Appearing in a role not undeserving of comparison to her supporting part in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Julia Garner again convinces as a young woman immersed in an alien culture. It’s a conceit of the narrative to withhold the true identity of the father from the audience, leaving us to guess not just this, but also whether Rachel genuinely believes her own claim. Here is where Garner excels, hers a deceptively layered performance that might be viewed in any number of ways. At once naïve and knowing, simultaneously virginal and versed in the ways of the world, she holds a strange power over our attention, always fascinating and never quite possible to pin down. As good is Liam Aiken, who imbues her brother with an authoritative seniority that belies his own ignorance of the wider world, his transition through the plot one of the movie’s funniest observances.
For all the strength of the performances—Rory Culkin and Cynthia Watros are equally worthy of praise—it’s what they perform that’s lacking: Electrick Children hasn’t the script to do its cast and director justice. The tangential subplot of a layabout musician Rachel meets; the motivations of the characters as they move toward the climax of the film; that climax itself, derailing the drama with a clunky third act: too many missteps render the movie a slight affair, nothing in the execution of its story worthy of the strength of its protagonist. Thomas has proved herself a potent directorial talent here, so much so that she manages to overcome the drawbacks of her effort as a writer.
[notification type=”star”]63/100 ~ OKAY. For all the strength of the performances, Electrick Children hasn’t the script to do its cast and director justice.[/notification]