“As You Are” seems to exist in a time outside of our own.
The quiet, indie drama is lyrical and almost dreamlike, devoid of almost any major indicators of when its events take place. Sure there’s the long shaggy hair coupled with flannel, grainy video footage, and a dearth of cell phones, but it’s not until the radio announces that Kurt Cobain has died that it really becomes clear when the film is set.
The two flannel-clad grunge-lovers in question are Jack (Owen Campbell) and Mark (Charlie Heaton), after their parents start dating each other. Together the duo befriends Sarah (Amandla Stenberg), skips school to get high, and find themselves diving into the muddled waters of first romance. But as an early gunshot indicates, there’s a storm a-coming, and these boys are smack in the middle of it — whatever it is.
It’s hard to tell if the Jacob’s Ladder of a narrative structure — showing an overhead shot of the two boys walking into the woods before a gunshot rings out, then jumping through their life punctured by police interrogation tapes — helps or hurts the simple narrative of “As You Are.” On the one hand, there’s something to be said for the way it captures mood. The movie may not have been able to afford the rights to most of the music these teens banter about, but there’s something real and recognizable about the way they do. The aimless, slow-burn atmosphere is a dead ringer for the seeming endlessness of time in a small town.
“As You Are” feels like it has something interesting to say about the way parents doing things for their kids (and vice versa) can reverberate in strange ways; or about the mundane terrors of high school, and the pitfalls that come with it. Even the interrogations seem like an interesting commentary on how things that seem so real, so wholesome, so whole, can be distorted and warped by hindsight.
But ultimately “As You Are” is a bit too meek to really comment on any of these things. Interrogations too often exist to flatten the relationships into clues or red herrings. It squanders all the promise of the hands-off presentation of these teen’s lives by wedging in a whodunnit that doesn’t carry a whole lot of suspense.
The real enthrallment happens between Mark and Jack, portrayed with complicated heart by Heaton and Campbell. The former, a melancholy romantic from the wrong side of the tracks; the latter, willowy and vulnerable in a way he can’t afford to be. Their mutually tentative experimentation, so full of bluster and irony all at once, is a perfect match for the dreamy and thoughtful reality of “As You Are.”
However, when it’s all said and done, there’s a lingering wish that the emotional authenticity of the movie had a bit more to back it up. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (in his first feature film) sidesteps many of the pitfalls that would’ve overtaken a different director of teenage angst. Perhaps his next film will provide more than that.
“As You Are,” a 2016 Seattle International Film Festival selection, screens April 7 at SIFF Film Center (305 Harrison St.)