Written and Directed by Bretten Hannam.
Starring Phillip Lewitski, Michael Greyeyes, Joel Thomas Hynes, Savonna Spracklin, Jordan Poole, Steve Lund, Joshua Odjick, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Callum Dunphy, Bailey Maughan, Avery Winters-Anthony, Samuel Davison, Ursula Calder, Desna Michael Thomas, Bobby Pierro, Guillermo Knockwood, John R. Sylliboy, Becky Julian, and Ben Ryan.
Two brothers embark on a journey to find their birth mother after their abusive father had lied for years about her whereabouts; along the way, they reconnect with their indigenous heritage and make a new friend.
Initially, Wildhood begins with a standard approach for gay coming-of-age stories; the young man is closeted, and the father, being verbally and physically abusive, is a raging and outspoken homophobe. There’s an unfiltered and sadly authentic nastiness with every word spewed an action taken by Arvin (Joel Thomas Hynes), the Caucasian dad of a mixed-race son. Thankfully releasing a week after Father’s Day, Wildhood also seems like the kind of LGBTQ narrative one might not want to experience during Pride Month of all times for various reasons (primarily that it could be traumatic for anyone that has endured the same harmful dynamic).
However, once the terror and discomfort of the living situation are established, Wildhood transitions into something lighter, happier, and more optimistic, still grappling with heavy themes such as identity and repression. Young Link (a remarkable Phillip Lewitski, methodically expressing every conflict, including internalized shame for his homosexuality) uncovers a stack of birthday letters and other gifts from his Mi’kmaq mother, who he was led to believe had died. Following vengeful theatrics (he certainly takes after the explosive temper of his father), Link takes his much younger brother Travis (satisfactory newcomer Avery Winters-Anthony) with him on the road in search of his mom.
It’s important to point out that Link and Travis don’t just share an inseparable bond (big brother is often the protector from the abuse), but a connection where both parties are comfortable ribbing and insulting one another. Sometimes those comments are manifested in hurtful and toxic ways because children are products of their environments. A powerful example of this comes a while after Link befriends the indigenous Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), although not without hesitation, as the young man is a ball of fury that does not trust easily. Nevertheless, Pasmay eventually teaches Link some beginner cultural dance moves, learning with a smile on his face. That is until Travis awakes from slumber, notices what they are up to, and jokingly calls his brother a douche while laughing at him. It’s their schtick, but this time it stings Link because it’s one of the first times he’s letting go of internalized homophobia and allowing himself to be who he wants, getting closer to and developing sexual tension between this new friend, offering assistance and a ride. These are the subtle emotions Phillip Lewitski brilliantly conveys and proof that he deserves more work (to be fair, everyone here is outstanding).
That’s not to say that Wildhood is without flaws, as while the direction from Bretten Hannam further envelops one into this moving, blossoming romance (there’s a sex scene that is both scorchingly erotically charged and executed with beautiful bluish lighting), his script occasionally feels amateurish. Characters have an unnatural way of crossing paths, with the mystery of where Link’s mother is also falling into that trap of convenience answers through new people. This allows underappreciated actors such as Michael Greyeyes to pop up for a fun distraction, but that’s not what makes Wildhood special. It’s a story of two shunned young men from broken homes coming together, confiding in one another, discovering themselves, and finding their capacity for love while shedding negative personality traits left over from their upbringing. It deserves to be sought out for the loveliness of its characters, performances, and Eastern Canadian scenery.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com