Hide Your Smiling Faces (2014)
Critic Consensus: Its meditative pace and low-key approach may prove too ponderous for some, but Hide Your Smiling Faces will cast a potent spell on viewers patient enough to let it unfold.
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Critic Reviews for Hide Your Smiling Faces
[Features an] outsider perspective, authentic locations, unforced naturalism, and fresh, improvisatory work by first-time actors.
There's a startling stillness about the film, especially the opening scenes, that becomes a character in itself and helps to avoid softness.
Traces of classic coming-of-age dramas such as Stand by Me and River's Edge are evoked in this lyrical and low-key reflection on sudden mortality and childhood's end.
Despite its languid pacing, there's an underlying unease that never entirely relaxes its grip.
The long silences and overdone symbolism make this feel like a hodgepodge of Mud, King of Summer and just about every other American indie film.
Audience Reviews for Hide Your Smiling Faces
A slow burn of a movie that teeters on the edge, literally and figuratively, between tragedy and chaos. Visiting the youthful moments of self exploration has rarely been done in such a minimalist and organic fashion. It should have always been done this way. The cinematic quality alone is enough to draw any number of accolades. The bonds of friendship are beautifully explored; the volatility stretched in every direction. HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES is a must see for those of us who grew up exploring our backyards not our cable boxes. With tones of STAND BY ME clear and present, the tangents that should have been explored are. Examining death, love and the future unknown occurs to everyone, some of us sooner than others. Some of us are lucky to have a brother to look to.
With Hide Your Smiling Faces, first-time writer-director Daniel Patrick Carbone has crafted a breathtaking, heartbreaking ode to growing up. Over just 80 minutes, we watch youth and innocence snatched away from a pair of too-young souls as they wrestle with death in many incarnations, and while the specter of mystery hangs over the entire Malick-esque film, Carbone eschews all that-staying the whole way with his boys-in favor of something that's intensely relatable even as it tells a story unique to its world.
Just like Malick's The Thin Red Line, Hide Your Smiling Faces opens with an innocuous but haunting shot of nature. Instead of an alligator slipping into an algae-choked pond, we get a snake slowly devouring another creature. It's our first brush with death in a film filled with it. Our protagonists-Eric (Nathan Varnson) and his younger brother, Tommy (Ryan Jones)-spend their days wandering the woods of their unnamed Northeastern town, where they encounter a dead blackbird and a pile of house-pet corpses, among other things.
Eric, tragically, also stumbles across the body of one of Tommy's best friends, Ian (Ivan Tomic). At the bottom of a bridge, near a river, there aren't any clues about what happened, but it understandably affects both previously carefree boys deeply. For Tommy, he becomes afraid of just about everything-the water, the woods, and particularly Ian's father (Colm O'Leary), whom he saw scare the life out of Ian mere hours before the boy's death.
Eric's troubles, meanwhile, are doubled when his best friend, Tristan (Thomas Cruz), talks about how he sometimes wishes he was dead. Terrified and angry that he's been burdened with trying to talk sense into an unpredictable teenage boy, he acts out. He fights, talks back to his parents, breaks into Ian's father's house, and begins carrying around a gun.
Hide Your Smiling Faces is both of nature and very naturalistic. While the Malick comparison is an apt one in many ways-such as the film's almost exclusively outdoor setting-Faces deviates from that template in some big ways. Music is almost non-existent in this world. Dialogue is also scarce, but when it takes place, it's in the form of actual conversation, not ethereal whispers from a narrator off the screen. All this is to say the film is very much grounded, and as such, the stakes play out right in front of you. There are implications of grander things at play-a universality in theme and arc that extends beyond these kids, this place-but Hide Your Smiling Faces succeeds first and foremost as an authentically-acted and lovingly-directed piece about two kids at a crossroads.
The film's dramatic high point is a tense, ultimately devastating phone conversation during which Tristan's fate seems to rely almost exclusively on how Eric answers a couple simple questions. Because Carbone (as well as his inexperienced but exceptionally talented actors) fosters such a strong connection between us and the characters, you can't help but place yourself in Eric's shoes at the moment. And because one young body has already made an appearance at that point in the picture, there's no guaranteeing the call will end the way you desperately want it to.
Another appropriate point of comparison is David Gordon Green's George Washington, which follows kids of a similar age doing similar things and dealing with similar tragedy before going off in a bizarrely supernatural direction. Hide Your Smiling Faces stays on planet Earth, thankfully, and the results-which ultimately cross a coming-of-age tale with elements of horror-are pretty spectacular. They also signal everyone involved-particularly Carbone-as serious talents to watch.
Another low-budget film that sets tone and cinematography above story, and it doesn't help it. For the first part of the film you are rather mesmerized with the minimalist approach to the story, and the poetic nature of the images. But as the story of this group of boys progresses, I found myself less and less interested with what was going on.
What director Daniel Carbone does so well is capturing the innocence and precarious nature of middle school boys. As they get into trouble, they also have a playful tone about them. Carbone really understands this and portrays that very well. He also casts the young boys perfectly, and their journey into grief and trauma seems believable and understandable given what they experienced.
However, it's imagery and, seemingly, form-less structure begins to feel tiring, repetitive, and monotonous at times. Carbone is great at establishing the tone he wants, but over the course of the movie the tone begins to feel trying and tiring. It definitely has some solid moments, and Carbone gets the small moments right. But since the overarching structure of the plot isn't there, you don't care too much.
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