Directed by: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Written by: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte & Madison Harrison
Starring: Charlie Heaton, Owen Campbell, Amandla Stenberg, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Scott Cohen
24-year-old director Miles Joris-Peryrafitte intentionally decided to make a coming of age story while he was still connected to his youth. He wanted to capture the intensity and weight of adolescence before he was too old to remember what it was like. The problem with most coming of age stories, is they are being written and directed by adults who either romanticize or demonize youth culture. The films are either AMERICAN GRAFFITI or KIDS, both with merit but disconnected from any reality I ever experienced. We easily forget what it’s like to make practical contact with life and feel love as a young adult. We too often focus on the lack of responsibility and view that time in life as a carefree romp. The lack of scarring can make the teenage years painful in ways that we as adults are detached from. We are dismissive of and condescend to our former selves. Our perspective is tainted by the knowledge that, chances are, things will work out.
AS YOU ARE follows three teenagers who are navigating their friendships and relationships through the confusing and often painful years before adulthood. Through a series of flashbacks and police interviews the story slowly unravels as our characters tell their story. The film is essentially built as a mystery but unlike most films with this structure the “who done it” or what happened” is secondary. The character work is upfront, impressive, and the strongest part of this mystery.
Jack (Owen Campbell) and Mark (Charlie Heaton) meet when their parents (Masterson, Choen) start to date. The boys have an immediate bond over music and are quickly inseparable. They’re outsiders in their small town but have a genuine connection that gives them strength and confidence. Despite the heightened nature of the narrative design, this film is very much rooted in a world I recognize and can relate to.
Charlie Heaton will be familiar to most viewers as Jonathan in STRANGER THINGS. And while his character in AS YOU ARE might be cut from a similar cloth, (they both come from broken homes, are outsiders…) he plays Mark with a quiet confidence and innocence that is completely unique. Mary Stuart Masterson plays Karen with nuance and meaning that could only be executed after a 3-decade film, TV and theater career. It would be easy to play her character with one-dimension and victimize her but Masterson delivers a layered performance that simultaneously embraces and defies expectation. Cohen plays Tom with enough charm that we understand why Karen falls for him but gives the character enough menace that we see him as a threat from the start.
From a stylistic side the film feels inspired by Gus van Sant’s death trilogy (Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days). The floating camera and long takes give the film a surreal almost dreamlike quality that calls the accuracy of the protagonist’s memories into question.
AS YOU ARE is at its best when centered on the raw emotional nature that defines adolescence. The mystery elements of the film have a payoff but I was never invested in that portion of the story. I’d highly recommend this film to any child of the 90’s who still thinks THE MELVINS are relevant and DOUGLAS COUPLAND is an important author.