We the Animals
Occasionally, a film comes along that fails to fit into any neat boxes. It’s dreamy, but firmly has both feet on the ground. Its main character is a child, yet lacks any notion of twee naivety. It’s got a lot going on, and somehow not a lot happens within the plot. We the Animals could have been a disaster, but it deftly straddles all of these delicate balances. It’s a charming and compelling examination of the complexities of families and growing up in one.
As the youngest of three brothers, Jonah (Evan Rosado) has it rough enough already. His family doesn’t have much, but they love one another and the boys have the full summer to go shirtless and run around their rural town. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. Just below that scrappy-but-happy veneer are the actual circumstances of their life. Jonah is slowly realizing that he’s not quite the same as his brothers, and he uses his drawings to process these thoughts. His parents may seem like they’re in love, and they are, but when their cyclical honeymoon phase wanes, they’re left with an abusive and toxic relationship that never moves forward. With Jonah’s parents in a holding pattern, growing up feels like breaking a never-ending cycle.
The way that We the Animals presents all of these issues is nothing short of poetic. From Jonah’s drawings coming to life to his other surreal coping mechanisms, the film is able to stylishly show us how a ten-year-old begins to process all of this. However, We the Animals never falls into escapism. Jonah doesn’t necessarily use his creativity to flee reality, but instead as a way to digest it.
Enhancing these notions of artistry are the film’s cinematography and score. We the Animals is shot beautifully. The characters often dwell in darkness, and the muted tones in these scenes only add to the dreamlike framing of Jonah. Plainly put, the We the Animals knows when to keep quiet. The score is meant to complement what’s happening on screen, and here it’s used effectively and blessedly sparingly.
Though we’ve seen plenty of examples of young boys coming of age on the silver screen, We the Animals is not your typical coming-of-age movie. It takes its time to find the real story, dig into the characters, and let you watch them grow, however painful that may be.