Becoming Redwood Jesse James Miller

Becoming Redwood Jesse James Miller
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In trying to emulate the genre characteristics and stylistic whimsies of the idiosyncratic coming-of-age comedy, there's an inherent disconnect or affectation present that is nearly impossible to overcome. Implicitly having a divergent or unique voice or vision, like a Jared Hess or a Wes Anderson, for example, is a genre or style unto itself, working within the lexicon of personal priorities and capabilities, whether it's in the sense of humour (Hess) or visual composition (Anderson).

Attempting to mirror, or liberally borrow from, an established voice adds a layer of contrivance or awkwardness not present in the original work. There's no natural or organic flow, which makes for discomforting viewing not entirely dissimilar to dealing with a poseur urbanite borrowing their wardrobe and opinions from the cultural status quo, trying hard to be quirky and unique despite being little more than a tiresome parrot.

Ostensibly, this is the major issue with Jesse James Miller's ode to the power of delusion, Becoming Redwood. It wants to be Rushmore but comes off more like Ryan Murphy's tonally disastrous Running with Scissors, minus the bravura and sensationalistic appeal.

The story — 11-year-old Redwood (Ryan Grantham) has to live with his estranged mother (Jennifer Copping) after his drug-dealing hippie father (Chad Willett) is arrested — isn't particularly compelling on its own. It's gussied up with an early '80s wardrobe and a trajectory metaphor of golf — in particular, the internal fantasy of beating Jack Nicklaus at the 1975 Masters — to mask its lack of originality, which is more forced and desperate than sincere and fun.

In part, the exceedingly lethargic pacing is to blame. Virtually every shot has a slow zoom from medium close-up and a laboured, student film gracelessness in movement. There's no visual stylization, save a blanched hue during fantasy sequences, leaving the overwhelming silence and Miller's tendency to let stationary shots linger on a lack of action to give an amateurish, somewhat embarrassing impression.

Each actor (Grantham and Copping, in particular) gives some depth to their one-note characters, which helps a bit, but can't compensate for the lackadaisical story of an outsider kid sticking to his fantasies against all odds or the portrayal of Redwood's stepfather (Derek Hamilton) and stepbrother (Tyler Johnson) as cartoonish sketch comedy villains.

But the nail in the coffin is the constant nods to Wes Anderson, literally taking music from his films, when not framing close-ups of minutiae with on-screen indicators of how far below par Redwood is in relation to Nicklaus. It just acts as an unfortunate reminder of the many films Becoming Redwood is unsuccessfully trying to be. (Storylab)