Amandla Stenberg has become one of young Hollywood’s most prolific people with her speaking on cultural appropriation, gender identity, and a lot of other social topics. Almost to the point, you’d think her claim to fame was speaking on such topics instead of acting. But with As You Are, which came out yesterday, and Everything, Everything, due out later this year, it seems Stenberg is ready to make it so she won’t simply be known as Rue all grown up and heavily political.
Jack (Owen Campbell) | Sarah (Amandla Stenberg) | Mark (Charlie Heaton) | Karen (Mary Stuart Masterson) | Tom (Scott Cohen)
Trigger Warning(s): Gun Shot (Noise Heard Repeatedly) and Child Abuse (Tom Smacking Mark Repeatedly)
Characters & Storyline
Between 1993 and 1994, three friends discover their sexuality and each other in a town not too far from Albany, NY. Something which doesn’t come easily as homosexuality is involved, a parent which disapproves of the orientation, and a lot of confusion as everyone tries to find someone to love and be in love with.
One of the main highlights of “As You Are” is that it isn’t a race to having any sort of sex. The film primarily focuses on Sarah, Jack, and Mark building the foundation of their friendship and experimenting with the little things first. Such as hand-holding, kissing, and just laying your head on someone’s lap and talking. Something which I find noteworthy for there isn’t a lot of popular media which pushes the importance of becoming friends and getting to know someone, deeply, before sex.
Often, be it in YA novels or on networks like FreeForm, sex is treated as simply the next step. It usually goes, you did something to impress me, we are attracted to each other, so let’s just have sex and deal with the whole friendship and defining who we are later. Which I have no problems with, but I feel like just as much as porn leads people to have warped views on sex, so does omitting intimacy between young people being anything besides letting someone penetrate or play with your genitalia.
A Coming of Age Tale Without a Focus On The Privileged
It’s a sad fact that the majority of coming-of-age movies and shows feature, often, white characters who are privileged. Hence why when they make mistakes and learn, the consequences often only go as far as a broken heart or maybe the loss of a job opportunity. Rarely do you see them being assaulted, being left destitute, or even facing jail time.
So with “As You Are” featuring Jack, someone who comes from a single-parent home, of which that parent lives in what I believe could be defined as a trailer, that was refreshing. Add on Mark’s dad having the type of money troubles that led to him not being raised with stability, and you get a different take on a worn-out tale.
It Seems Made for A Niche
I should note, that niche isn’t those who enjoy LGBT films or coming-of-age tales. No, the niche “As You Are” is for is those who enjoy films that have unnecessary artsy moments. You know the kind. Where suddenly things are in slow motion, there is some sort of trippy music playing, and the scene lasts long enough that you want to check how long are they trying to make this movie?
On top of that, it includes this weird police investigation as part of the narrative. Touching on the subject, without spoiling the whole movie, something happens to one of the characters and it requires the police to interview the cast. With this, you see how writers Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harris tried to bring a little something different here. However, considering all that is happening with Mark and his dad, Jack’s feelings toward Mark, and how Sarah plays into all that, on top of Karen and Tom’s relationship, it makes each time we get an interrogation scene jarring. For it neither sets up what is to come nor reviews what happened in such a way that seems natural. Like the artsy moments, it seems like an unnecessary method of storytelling that makes what honestly could have been a 90-minute or less, movie into something nearly 2 hours.
Overall: Mixed (Home Viewing)
Even with taking note that this is not playing at your local theater, meaning you have to make an effort to see this, I feel even if it was accessible I would have mixed feelings. For while I loved the characters, loved the plot dealing with Mark and Jack’s experimenting, as well as the complicated relationship Mark and Tom have, the way the police investigation is used honestly ruins “As You Are.” For while you understand the purpose is to present intrigue through foreshadowing, you may feel, like I did, that there were probably better ways to execute this story.
Hence the “Mixed (Home Viewing)” label for while you have to commend Joris-Peyrafitte for this being his first film, you can see that he needs to learn why the adage “Less is more” isn’t as much a cliché as it is sound advice.