Some Freaks (2017): Social Outcasts Coming-of-age

A one-eyed boy and an overweight girl form the unlikely pairing at the heart of Some Freaks. The film is the directorial debut of playwright Ian MacAllister McDonald and follows Matt (Thomas Mann playing a role similar to his in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), the boy missing an eye, and Jill (newcomer Lily Mae Harrington), a heavyset punk transfer student. The film is separated into two sections. The first shows the two meeting when they are the only people in their biology class without a partner for a project. Each has been the victim of bullying and they quickly enter an awkward, but caring relationship. The second section picks up when Matt visits Jill at college, having been physically apart since graduation.

The film suffers from a rushed and amateurish first half. McDonald repeatedly uses title cards to skip forward in time to advance the relationships but, save for the necessary gap separating the film’s two halves, the leaps are distracting. They’re an indication of poor editing trying to create character progression. The camerawork makes this feel even more slapdash. The lighting can be strong, but the camera is constantly jostling around to the point that it becomes difficult to track characters that are simply taking a walk. The cast is held in extremely shallow focus which can in general be a good technique, but when they move the focus doesn’t move with them. McDonald has stated that this was a deliberate decision to depict the unstable nature of teenagers still defining themselves but that doesn’t stop the film from feeling like it was shot by a subpar cinematographer. The characters are sympathetic, but McDonald seems to be rushing toward the second half where he can explore his true interests.

Harrington gives a realistic, conflicted performance.

Some Freaks is about how relationships can change us and how personal change can affect our relationships. These teens are in flux and the second half of the film, by far the stronger portion, examines the consequences of their development. When Matt finally visits Jill at her college, she is not the girl he remembers. She looks and acts completely different. Even though she still cares for him, he is unable to reconcile her new self with the one he fell in love with. In this half, Harrington reveals herself as the film’s true star and a breakout talent. She must come to terms with who she was, who she wants to be, and whether Matt is a part of that. In one of the film’s best scenes, she delivers an eviscerating tongue-lashing that hits the core of their problem. They were brought together by their outsider status so Jill’s progression has removed what was the foundation of their relationship. Their dissolution is a raw and nuanced portrayal of a couple that finds themselves moving at divergent velocities.

McDonald deserves praise for focusing on these specific characters. Few films bother with humanizing people at the fringe of society. The closest we normally get are fake misfits that are one makeover away from being on the cover of a magazine. In an intimate, but depressing scene, Matt confesses that he had never thought about girls before Jill. He spent so much of his energy struggling to make it through each day amidst the tormenting of his classmates that he never had time to think about romance. These teenagers are truly at the bottom rung of their social ladder and it is refreshing to see how their relationships benefit them. Even as their romance fades, its impact remains. It helped them get through a difficult time and despite the heartbreak it’s end may cause, it will be a part of them as they move on in their lives. Some Freaks is a film filled with difficult, honest insights about our formational relationships, dampened by a jumbled first half.

3/5 stars.

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