Any good coming-of-age film wants robust, quirky, but likable characters going by way of the pangs of adolescence. If it’s set in a super-judgmental small city that feels extra like a jail, all of the merrier. If these characters bond over their goals of experiencing one thing larger and brighter, even higher. And if additionally they begin hallucinating time-travelers from the longer term — properly, buckle in for a wacky journey. In that method, the brand new movie Antarctica, which follows two finest mates of their final yr of highschool, feels much less just like the raunchy female-led comedy Booksmart and extra just like the off-kilter Napoleon Dynamite in the best way it makes use of the weirdness of a small city to spotlight the weirdness of rising up.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for Antarctica.]
In Antarctica, surly Janet (Kimmie Muroya) will get placed on mood-altering medicine (marketed as a delicate solution to be extra pleasing to society as a girl), which makes her hallucinate. She meets a boy who claims he’s from the longer term, and the 2 begin a romance. In the meantime, after a regrettable celebration hookup, shy Kat (Chloë Levine) turns into the goal of rumors that escalate as she discovers she’s pregnant. The 2 of them navigate their newly tense friendship as they grapple with separate points and their dream of escaping their small, stifling city.
The film works finest when director Keith Bearden performs up the weirdness and brings the characters collectively, however it’d be stronger if Kat and Janet’s storylines shared extra of a stable thread. Antarctica’s items really feel disconnected, the place a firmer hyperlink might have sewed them collectively into one thing larger than the sum of its components. However because it stands, whereas these components are regular on their very own, and sometimes superbly poignant, they nonetheless really feel like indifferent vignettes.
Janet’s misadventures blur the road between actuality and the uncomfortable side effects of her medicine. Hers is arguably the extra fascinating story, as a result of it’s so surreal and unfamiliar, which implies that the plot beats are shocking and surprising. Kat’s story is extra acquainted and rooted in actuality, however when juxtaposed with Janet’s, it limps alongside with out as a lot resonance. They every share a theme about what it’s wish to develop up as a younger girl in a closed-minded small city that doesn’t take younger folks significantly, however there’s a slight dissonance between the blurry actuality of Janet’s storyline and the uncomfortable actuality of Kat’s that’s simply jarring sufficient to hinder the film’s general tone.
The movie’s finest scenes occur when the ladies are collectively. Typically it’s a typical teenage film scene, the place they climb as much as a rooftop to share ideas — and spy on their neighbors. However in Antarctica’s strongest sequences, Bearden makes use of subdued vignettes to seize massive feelings. When Kat tells Janet she’s pregnant, it’s carried out by way of voiceover as faceless fingers move round footage of the ladies, in image frames and on cellphone screens. The 2 of them then search for on the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling above them.
Tying the entire film collectively, although, is the understated darkish humor. Whereas Kat and Janet have comedic moments, what makes the film humorous is the underhanded supply of absurd background particulars and knowledge. At a faculty meeting, the principal doesn’t even blink whereas commenting on the gang-style murders taking place at a close-by elementary faculty. One recurring gag is the historical past instructor’s idolization of Ronald Reagan. None of those parts are essentially exterior of the realm of risk, however nonetheless taken to the acute, they emphasize the city’s off-kilter nature, which makes Janet’s time-traveler beau really appear believable.
When Janet learns what precisely is happening along with her time-traveler pal, it’s a revelation that matches properly into the film’s barely absurdist tone — not fairly speculative fiction, however a weirder model of actuality. Within the moments when Kat’s plotline leans into that absurdity, the 2 storylines come so near meshing. The very best moments, nevertheless, occur when the 2 ladies discover solace with one another amid the chaos. Their small city could also be deeply odd, and their very own lives might solely get wackier, however they’ve one another. A lot as Napoleon and Deb reconcile whereas enjoying tetherball on the finish of Napoleon Dynamite, Kat and Janet make up in a delicate, understated second. What’s a coming-of-age film, if not simply the chums we made alongside the best way?
Antarctica is now accessible for digital rental on the Microsoft retailer and by way of On Demand companies.