Sundance Journal: ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete’

Watching children struggle is one of the hardest things for me to see in movies. Films about kids stuck in loveless families with neglectful parents are heartbreaking. Maybe that’s why ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete’ tugged at my emotions so much.

Mister (Skylan Brooks) comes from the roughest part of town. His mom is a hooker and a junkie. They live on Welfare. We know that things aren’t right from the start. Naming your kid Mister smacks of carelessness. I can’t imagine a more faceless, ambiguous name. He’s just Mister.

His name may not carry any weight, but this kid is wise beyond his years. Watching him try with all his might to overcome the hardships of living in the ghetto without any money or a caring parent reminded me very much of the way Hushpuppy watches after herself in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. Brooks is a great young actor and he’s certainly the highlight of this movie.

His friend, Pete (Ethan Dizon), is a young Korean kid in the same predicament. Both of them have barely-there mothers. When Mister’s mom is hauled away to prison, the unlikely duo forms a strong bond as they spend the summer simply surviving. If they get caught, they’ll be taken to Child Services. Instead, they scrape, scrounge and claw for each piece of food they can get.

Sure, some of the movie feels like it’s intentionally pulling at your emotions, but I gave in. It’s a couple of kids, for heaven’s sake. It’s hard not to feel for them. You know, it’s almost like watching one of those horribly sad ASPCA commercials with all the lonely cats and dogs. The movie knows exactly what heartstrings to tug, and it does just that.

The obviousness of the screenplay’s intentions is overshadowed by Brooks’ superb performance. It’s only fitting that his character wants desperately to be an actor. He’s even memorized a monologue from ‘Fargo’, which provides for one of the best moments in the film.

The knock on the movie, which was pretty much unanimous with everyone I talked to, is that it goes on a little too long. It feels like the ending tries to tie up too many loose ends with neat little bows. This is a dirty, grimy, unforgiving world. Some of the movie’s various subplots might be best left to the imagination.

Still, Brooks and Dizon are really dynamite in it. When the movie focuses on them and the unbreakable bond they form, it’s quite moving.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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