by Frank H. Woodward, published on June 2, 2006, 3:37 GMT|
There is some engaging new talent on display in Mouth to Mouth - both on the screen and behind the camera.
For those who have seen Hard Candy (or even the lamentable X-Men: The Last Stand Ellen Page has already stood out in the crowd and this earlier film is no less of an accomplishment.
Equally memorable is director Alison Murray. Mouth to Mouth is her first feature after a prolific music video career. As opposed to other MTV graduates, Murray meshes visual style with notable characters to make a film you can not ignore.
Sherry (Ellen Page) is a runaway drifting on the streets of Europe. As she searches for a sense of herself, she encounters a collective of kindred homeless spirits.
Lead by a charismatic leader Harry (Eric Thal), SPARK is a group that strives to live up to its acronym - Street People Armed With Radical Knowledge. Under Harrys influence, these drop outs wont be victims. They help each other to kick drugs and take life into their own hands. As they travel from city to city, SPARK recruits members and rebel against the weight of the world.
Sherry, however, is not entirely free to do this. Her mother Rose (Natasha Wightman) is desperate to find Sherry and re-forge a bond they never seemed to manage in the first place. In her own way, Rose is as lost as her daughter and, when they are reunited, falls under the spell of SPARK as well.
But SPARK and Harry are not all they seem. Once under his Svengali-like spell and living in his strict commune, Sherry and her fellow SPARK members begin to question Harrys motives. Is SPARK just as manipulative as the world they ran away from?
Mouth to Mouth is a blunt depiction of youthful rebellion. In some ways it travels similar terrain to Larry Clarks 'Kids'. In Murrays hands, however, Mouth to Mouth never feels like an exploitation film posing as social commentary.
The theme of innocence lost is clearly evident.Sherry, despite her air of world weariness, is the innocent trying to come to maturity on her own terms. She succumbs to the allure of Harrys SPARK until it deflowers her in more ways than one.
Not as readily apparent is the theme of resuscitation.
When we first meet Sherry, she is in danger of drowning in the drug addled streets of lost boys and girls. When she encounters SPARK, they are demonstrating basic CPR (Mouth to Mouth -- just like the title.
Through the act of meeting Harry and his followers, Sherry is revived. As the film drifts depicts the costs of blind delusion and manipulation, Sherry will literally and figuratively need the act of Mouth to Mouth if she and her friends are to survive.
As mentioned before, its hard to take your eyes off of Ellen Page.This is the first ingénue in some time that can act. Her talent works invisibly which allows you to believe in Sherry as a dimensional human being.
For those who are seeing her for the first time in Mouth to Mouth, they will experience what it is to truly discover someone. If they have seen her other work out this year, this film will only confirm her stature as not only one to watch, but one who is here to stay.
Mouth to Mouth isnt a one person show, though. Eric Thals performance of Harry is a cross between cult leader and self empowerment guru is eerily charismatic -- as it has to be.
Maxwell McCabe-Lokos also deserves mention as Sherrys not as crazy as he looks friend Mad Ax. The range his character must go through is every bit as nuanced as Pages Sherry. Together they form a solid team.
Visually, Mouth to Mouth is pungent.
You almost want to take a bath after watching it. To call it gritty, however, would do the film a disservice. This grit is as much artistry as it is realism.
With cinematographer Barry Stone, Murray employs washed out lighting to give certain moments a surreal / documentary vibe.Murray, a traveler herself when she left home at 15, knows the world she is depicting and she does not shy away from the warts and the exuberance.
She even employs moments of choreography. When Sherry and her mother break into a little dance number on the side of the road, it encapsulates their bond and their tension.
This is an action more often found in musicals, not dramas, yet it works.
What this intriguing film debut truly deserves is a wider release.
Mouth to Mouth is already playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles on June 2 ( Laemmle's Fairfax 3 - 1 week ) No MPAA rating.
Rating: 4 out of 5