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Entries in Hide Your Smiling Faces [2014] (1)

Wednesday
Apr162014

Hide Your Smiling Faces (2014)

Stand By Tree

In an alternate universe, Terrence Malick directed Stand By Me and called it Hide Your Smiling Faces. For some, that's the decade's sexiest elevator pitch. For others, like me, it's more like a dare.

With his ponderous coming-of-age story, writer/director Daniel Patrick Carbone ticks off the two top boxes on my Cinematic Pet Peeves list: unoriginality and pretentiousness. Film is a wide-ranging art form, of course, and there's room for ideas both well-worn and lofty--but rarely at the same time, and never this nakedly cribbed and bubble-headed.

Stop me if you've heard this before:

Two boys live in a small town that's marked by lush greenery, run-down houses, and an utter lack of anything to do except get into trouble. The adults are either disaffected or dangerous. There's a mysterious death that shakes the main characters to their core. And a gun comes into play early on, which symbolizes...something or other.

Bonus points for thinking of last year's drama, Mud, as well.

Strike that. The three films I've mentioned so far exist on the evolutionary (or de-evolutionary) chart of heartfelt narrative resonance. On one end of the spectrum, you have Rob Reiner's adaptation of a beloved Stephen King story, which boasts powerful and varied performances; a rich, twisty storyline; and a keen understanding of nostalgia's role in becoming a well-rounded adult. In the middle, you have the Southern-fried Matthew McConaughey non-thriller with the lush photography and murky narrative, which is more a showcase for a cool performance than resonance.

Then there's Hide Your Smiling Faces, which substitutes Stand By Me's deeply personal pre-teen angst for broad moments of bogus intensity (Will the main character's best friend kill himself or come out as gay? Will the kid brother character use the aforementioned gun to exact revenge on the father of his dead pal--whose death is shrouded in ambiguity?) There are zero payoffs in this movie--only setups that fade away like sun in the summer twilight, 'cause it's all about the trees and the feelings and just, y'know, like, being, maaaan--or, y'know, not, or whatever.

The film's flaws rest squarely on Carbone's shoulders. He was gifted with a pretty terrific cast in Nathan Varnson (as Eric, the stoic older brother) and Ryan Jones (as kid sibling Tommy). In truth, I like these actors better than the leads in Mud. Their naturalism is unquestionably strong, and I can't wait to see where they pop up next. Hide Your Smiling Faces also looks great. Director of photography Nick Bentgen lenses a truly great-looking ode to nature and aimlessness here--but he's stuck painting a Mona Lisa cover on a Curious George book.

I can recommend the film only as a curiosity, and as a visual experience--like one of those looping nature blu-rays of fish tanks, the cosmos, or trains passing by. Now that spring is upon us, there'll be no shortage of rainy days, when laundry needs folding and nature's a tad too miserable to enjoy. In those cases, Hide Your Smiling Faces is perfect as visual white noise. But you'll get more satisfaction from scrubbing the bathtub than watching Carbone's film: at least that chore makes sense, and the result serves a greater emotional purpose.