It’s hard to write about this film. It’s left me heartbroken and forlorn, not for my losses, but for a ghostly visit to a past phase in my life, when the whole world was ahead of me and yet I was sure only tragedy could come of adulthood. I miss that person so much, there’s so much I wish I could tell him. The Other Kids, the triumphant experiment by filmmaker Chris Brown, uses disarmingly honest emotions as powerful fuel to boost the audience back into all the awkwardness, joy and insecurity of that moment in your life when you take your last long sip of childhood, and face the daunting metamorphosis of entering a stiffening state of forced-upon maturity.
More of a collaborative effort, Brown blends a bonafide documentary with a fully scripted dramatic structure to simulate the universal condition of a modern senior’s last weeks in high school. All of the actors are the real deal: 12th graders with some serious problems and seriously fun times intermingling confusingly. But the work itself is not confused. Great care was taken to use these actors’ real lives and real dramas as part of the manufactured storylines. It’s a masterful sort of cinema verite, mixed with scripted back stories reaching some pretty hard-hitting climaxes. The Other Kids is nothing short of an alchemical fusion of fiction and in-your-face documentary, unleashing a bolt of honesty rarely seen in modern American dramatic film.
A gentle and attentive camera tells so many of the ensemble characters/actors’ stories: a lingering neck hickey, just at the edge of the frame with no discussion of it or even a close up; the dumb giggling banter of a shared goofiness between friends, as genuine a snapshot of high school silliness as one can get; watching a laborer talk about dreams of being a UN ambassador followed by his building an actual foundation in cement and cinder blocks. The narratives are almost unnoticeable. You learn so much about these characters through so much of their glorious nothings, it all comes off like the sensation of a gentle tickle across the skin. Seemingly unrelated scenes edit into each other thematically, sometimes by sharing the same word in completely different contexts, you almost forget you left a wholly different moment in space and time.
It’s a film about all those terribly disruptive things that kids go through with their families, their friends and partners, and the many adults trying to shape them. Witnessing their pivots between the smart-ass judo of an intelligent teenager sparring with their parents to their own versions of acquiescence and adaptation is like emotional ballet in audiovisual flow. To be sure, some very jarring traumas come to pass, and anyone who survived their late teens will simply fall into the screen and back into that time. But unlike fun films like Dazed and Confused, this plunge isn’t all for laughs. Gone is the popular-kid fantasy of football players, cheerleaders, and stoners, in are truly “the other kids” and the cinematic language is unrelenting in making us almost physically uneasy – or at times absolutely carefree – with a sincerity which could not be faked, not by these brave filmmakers. The Other Kids gracefully dances into a confluence of events with such quiet reverence, you don’t know it’s even happening until you are engaged on levels most films never dare to try any reach.
And baby, let me tell ya, those end credits are just gonna kill ya…