Hide Your Smiling Faces
It would be tempting to describe Hide Your Smiling Faces as a coming-of-age film but this feels inaccurate; rather than following a conventional story arc the film meanders around at a slow pace and leaves very little resolved, raising more questions than answers. Set in rural New Jersey, the story revolves around two brothers, 14-year-old Eric (Nathan Varnson) and nine-year-old Tommy (Ryan Jones) as they struggle to come to terms with the tragic death of a friend.
The film’s strength lies in the performances of the two young actors who portray their characters with startling realism and depth. The dynamic between them is well observed and convincing as they jostle between hostile interactions accountable to their five-year age gap, and more tender brotherly moments which are fewer and far between.
From the outset the atmosphere of the film is foreboding as danger seems to be lurking around every corner. Left mostly to their own devices, we see the two boys and their friends explore abandoned buildings in the woods, play with dead birds, host wrestling matches and play with a gun borrowed from their friend’s father’s workshop. Unfortunately the latter feels convoluted and superfluous to the plot as the weapon doesn’t actually play a role in their friend’s death and seems like a lazy device used to heighten the drama. The gun’s significance only seems to relate to a scene towards the end where Eric, spurned by a play-fight that gets out of hand, takes out the firearm and holds it to another boy’s head. The scene feels unconvincing and unprecedented as Eric shows no tendency towards excessive anger or violence in previous scenes and his provocation is minimal.
The cinematography is impressive throughout and contributes to the solemn and contemplative mood of the film; the majority of the scenes are shot in the bluish shadows of the woods while others are cast in bleached-out sunlight that is somehow equally cold. The dialogue is minimal throughout the film and the majority of the ideas are communicated visually, although when conversations do occur they feel natural and real.
Hide Your Smiling Faces is worth watching for the strength of the lead performances alone, however the subject matter is well-chartered territory and the film falls well short of classics like Stand By Me (1985) and more recently Mud (2012) both of which are excellent portrayals of very similar themes.
A UK release date for Hide Your Smiling Faces has not yet been announced.
Watch the trailer for Hide Your Smiling Faces here: