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Akron
4/5    
dir Sasha King, Brian O'Donnell
scr Brian O'Donnell
prd William Snodgrass
with Matthew Frias, Edmund Donovan, Andrea Burns, Amy da Luz, Joseph Melendez, Cailan Rose, Isabel Machado, Andrew Wimmer, Daniel O'Donnell, Alexander Mariani, Luis Gabriel Canas, Diego Suarez
frias and donovan release UK Mar.16 flare,
US 30.Jan.17
15/US 1h28

flare film fest
Akron With a bright, easy approach, this Midwestern drama never makes an issue of its central teen same-sex romance. Instead, this is a story about a wide range of people trying to overcome a shared past tragedy. It's a bit melodramatic, and also rather straightforward, but the characters are engagingly realistic and the message is important.

At an Akron, Ohio, university med student Benny (Frias) meets flirty rival mudball player Christopher (Donovan), an arts student. In this first flush of romance, Benny finds support from his pal Julie (Rose) and his parents (Burns and Melendez), plus teasing from his little sister Becca (Machado). So Benny develops a strong relationship with Christopher and they head off to Florida together for spring break with Christopher's mother (da Luz). But a past event sends their relationship down an unexpected rocky road.

Frias and Donovan are relaxed and natural, athletic young men who are powerfully attracted to each other. As Benny's parents, Burns and Melendez offer a terrific perspective, a bit taken aback to watch their child make his own decisions. And da Luz plays a rather more open-minded woman who has been through quite a lot. What happens between them allows the actors to give sometimes startlingly authentic performances that have real impact.

Still, the film is squeaky clean, more cute than sexy, with only one real shadow: Benny and Christopher had a fateful encounter many years earlier, portrayed in a pre-title sequence. Christopher is haunted by this long before Benny makes the connection, leaving the audience waiting for the other shoe to drop. Their awkward feelings are what drive the film forward, and they're strongly resonant. Even talking about this event leaves a space in the room. And while every character wants to bury what happened, the film takes a more provocative approach.

Yes, this is a story about how difficult it is to achieve true reconciliation, because it requires accepting the pain and sometimes embracing it. Filmmakers King and O'Donnell keep the film's tone introspective and inquisitive, letting deeper feelings gurgle to the surface along the way. It's not a particularly artful film, but the observations are honest. And what it has to say about people who simply refuse to move forward, blaming others for their issues, is seriously powerful.

15 themes, language
29.Feb.16

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