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Beneath the Harvest Sky
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by Jay Seaver

"Outsiders in the potato fields of Van Buren, Maine."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: If you look at a map of Maine, you'll find that the northern half of the state is primarily a grid of unincorporated rectangular territories without names, with a few slightly more inhabited towns hugging the Canadian border. Growing up in the southern part of the state, I always thought it must be a strange place to live, especially when a family from that area moved to town and had weird French accents. As "Beneath the Harvest Sky" smoothly depicts, though, it's apparently just like growing up in any other rural town, only more so.

And just like teenagers in small towns everywhere, Casper and Dominic dream of getting out and moving to the big city. Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) is earning money for a car by working on the annual potato harvest, where he's getting close with classmate Emma (Sarah Sutherland). His best friend Casper (Emory Cohen), meanwhile, is helping father Clayton (Aiden Gillen) with the pot-and-pills business, and if that wasn't already enough trouble, it looks like he's knocked girlfriend Tasha (Zoe Levin) up.

In one of the few classroom scenes before the characters are off for harvest break, the characters are discussing something by S.E. Hinton, with Casper being a disruptive jerk, and you don't exactly need a post-film Q&A to figure out that filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly are at least partially inspired by those books and the movies made from them. It's a story about teenagers marking time to an adulthood that doesn't seem to offer much more than their youth although how desperate that makes the various characters is not always what one would expect or how it appears on the surface. That means that the opening stretch can be rough going, featuring as it does several scenes in a row of Casper establishing his bad-boy bona fides much faster than his interesting-person ones, while the necessary establishment of certain adult characters can seem out of place.

Once they get their feet on the ground, though, Gaudet & Pullapilly can appear to sit back and let events play out in front of their camera. It's probably somewhat unfair to characterize what they do that way, but they did establish themselves as fine observers in their last Maine-based movie (documentary The Way We Get By), and there are a number of scenes here that might remind a viewer of that sort of non-fiction work, whether it be having an establishing shot pull double duty with a reminder of the upcoming harvest break, shots of people doing that work, or showing kids screwing around with potato cannons and moose safaris. Unlike in documentaries, most of this is actually premeditated, but having an eye and ear for what is going to feel natural on screen is a handy skill even for a fictional feature.

The cast is quite capable of getting that realism across, too. Emory Cohen is the guy that most people seeing this will remember, and justifiably so; he's playing the most outspoken and confrontational character in the movie and doing it well enough that it seldom feels like an actor emoting. There's a genuine teenage single-mindedness to him, but while that abrasiveness never leaves, something sympathetic sneaks in by the end, even though he hasn't overplayed the moments that show Casper to not be a complete lunkhead. Maintaining a consistent regional accent that you don't hear in a lot of movies is nice, too. Callan McAuliffe kind of fades into the background in comparison, since the sensible friend is not neatly as showy a role to play and playing up how the handsome middle-class guy feels the most trapped by his surroundings could easily feel like whining. So he does smaller things well, especially in his scenes with Sarah Sutherland. She fills her small role nicely, while Aiden Gillen does a nice job of making Clayton both a not-horrible father and a criminal whose best quality may be knowing his place in the food chain.

Eventually, things must eventually come to a conclusion, and that's not necessarily Pullapilly's and Gaudet's strongest point (although there's an argument to be made for randomness, that much of a teenager's future is in fact out of his or her control). They do a fine job of getting there, at least; once characters are established, the stories unspool at a nice pace, especially in terms of balancing stories with different amounts of obvious drama. They also get a nice soundtrack courtesy of Dustin Hamman.

It's a fine "teenagers at loose ends" movie, with the sort of authentic core that's not at all surprising from people who came from documentaries. Like some other indies with this sort of sense of place, it may not travel as well as it should, even if its young-adult story is plenty universal.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26514&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/26/14 00:21:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.

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5/05/14 Hqtqhegs Quantify: What is that there was just handing down to japan their carry pouch DX.Edward A M 3 stars
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