' Cinema Romantico: 10,000 Saints

Monday, September 14, 2015

10,000 Saints

When teenage Jude (Asa Butterfield) is sent by his mother Harriett (Julianne Nicholson) from sleepy Vermont to stay with his father, Les (Ethan Hawke), in big city New York, the decision as viewed through a conventional lens might raise eyes. After all, Les lives in a ramshackle rent control apartment in the 1980’s version of the East Village where the homeless duke it out with encroaching yuppies, allows his son to forgo school and gives him no curfew so long as, like, you know, he gets himself to bed somewhere around the crack of dawn. Also, Les deals pot. But then, “10,000 Saints” isn’t your conventional coming-of-age opus; it’s like if Judy Blume wrote an R-rated movie.


Then again, it very much is your conventional coming-of-age opus. It’s a story populated with Types: a pair of bored teenage boys; too-cool-for-school girl (that beret!) who kinda comes between them and unwittingly becomes pregnant; a mom and dad who are like the leftover-sixties New England version of “Boyhood’s” mom and dad; the bad boy rocker you don’t take home to meet the folks. But it isn’t all so foregone in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s film, one based off a novel by Eleanor Henderson. If it doesn’t necessarily turn these Types on their heads it nonetheless views them with an affection and genuineness that offsets their familiarity.

That deference to the norm is echoed in the character of Les. There is no question he’s too loose with the parenting reigns and offers bad advice, yet “10,000 Saints” is nonetheless refreshing for the grown-up way in which he lets his son feel his own way through life. This is emblemized in their very first scene together, in which Les reveals that Jude was adopted. It’s a bombshell dropped like name-checking your favorite band, so casual you’re not heard you heard it right. It’s indicative not only of Les’s slacker parenting style, but the film’s style, supremely laid-back in spite of so much drama, not seeking to shock, content to just let it happen and then let these youthful characters absorb the world’s punches.

Consider the film’s turning point. This happens in the wake of Jude’s best pal Teddy (Avan Jogia) freezing to death after huffing Freon in the midst of a winter’s night. As it happens, Teddy has also unwittingly just impregnated Eliza (Hailee Seinfeld), the daughter of Les’s girlfriend Di (Emily Mortimer) in New York, who has come up to visit Jude for New Year’s Eve. Neither of these events feels cosmically inclined, intended to yield tragedy and subsequent life lessons; no, they just play as accidents, youthful idiocy with far greater ramifications then could be foreseen.


Of course, these events are not necessarily presented with the kind of solemnity they might otherwise engender either. Rather the whole of “10,000 Saints” is outfit with a sweet-scented pathos, one emblemized in the “straight-edge” lifestyle of the post-punk musical landscape which is reflected in the character of Johnny (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s older brother. Though he’s a tattoo artist squatting in Alphabet City and fronting a rhythm less hardcore band, he opts for a clean living lifestyle of abstinence and no drugs or alcohol. He’s so pure, in fact, that he steps in for his deceased brother, emulating the code of Yibbum, to become the father of Eliza’s baby.

If you wish the film would do more right by its female characters, giving them more of a chance to speak for their selves than simply reacting to the whims of these men, and if you wish Johnny’s storyline was not resolved through an inane Reveal betraying the character’s integrity, the film still works as a poignant snapshot of a makeshift family, one that eventually branches from Eliza and two dads to even encompass Harriet and Di. Though the film encompasses the Tomkins Square Park riots, they somehow still feel distant; the film’s tone loving, not angry, and this joyously complicated clan unencumbered by typical cultural mores truly bands together.

“10,000 Saints” is based in straight edge culture, but its mantra might have been taken from a counter-culture song that embraced a druggie's life, the kind of juxtaposition on which this film thrives...I get by with a little help from my friends.

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