The idea of a coming-of-age teen comedy-drama is far from original in the film industry. If anything, it’s one of the most heavily-treaded upon sub-genres. From Stand by Me to Lady Bird to The 400 Blows, these films come in nearly every shape and format. It’s the ones that don’t adhere to the conventions of everyday existence that stand the test of time because the true power of true-to-life storytelling is the realization that adolescence is anything but ordinary. All These Small Moments, in its classic setup, focuses on…you guessed it…the small moments that end up defining adolescence in its intimacy. It’s hardly original, but the individual factors that make up the end result of All These Small Moments is a surprisingly refreshing mix of clever dialogue and fabulous performances.
Howie Sheffield (Brendan Meyer) is a teenage boy growing up in Brooklyn with his brother, Simon (Sam McCarthy), and his parents, Carla (Molly Ringwald) and Tom (Brian D’Arcy James), on the verge of a nasty divorce. His difficult existence of failing to connect with his friends and his confounding home life is only worsened when he becomes infatuated with Odessa (Jemima Kirke), a woman he rides the bus with every morning and admires from afar.
The aspect of All These Small Moments that stays with you the most is the performances throughout the film. Each character has a distinct personality, which is showcased by a distinct performance by the actor, which leaves a memorable mark on the viewer, something that smaller films often struggle to achieve while trying to be memorable while failing to be unique. The characters and performances in All These Small Moments aren’t unique because they’re quirky, but because they’re heartfelt and genuine. They don’t often do the things one would expect, or even want from film characters. Meyer builds Howie with a tragic, but entirely lighthearted touch that pretty much fills out the archetype of a teenage boy that hasn’t fallen victim to being a total asshole to humanity, just to himself. Surprisingly, if only due to her lack of exposure in recent years, the most powerful performance in the film comes from Ringwald, who, along with D’Arcy James, paints a heartbreakingly doomed portrait of a marriage on the brink of disaster. It’s a beautifully painful performance of false hope in the face of domestic ruin.
Written and directed by Melissa Miller Costanzo, All These Small Moments has a certain blandness with its palette, bathing the characters in warm neutral tones, and settings. The power of her direction comes in the framing of the characters. There’s an incredible amount of intimacy in the long shots of characters deep in emotional monologues (including an incredibly moving one from Harley Quinn Smith) that captures the subtleties of pain that might not define us, but stays with us.
All These Small Moments does a nice job in constructing the world around Howie without having to leave viewers in the dark. Costanzo doesn’t mind branching off to pick up on other storylines that Howie isn’t seeing firsthand. This builds the story around the idea of the environmental awareness that the world gets to see, but teenagers never get to from their own perspectives. This perspective is what comes from being able to look back on our mistakes and recognize the potentially screwed-up things that define us as adults.
One irritating thing about a lot of teen films is their insistence to stay within a PG-13 rating. While the need to stay within the rating for important films like Love, Simon, is understandable, for many films, the adolescent characters end up feeling strangely censored. As a teenager, I had a horribly dirty mouth (and I still do, if to a lesser extent) and I never felt it realistic or compelling for teenagers to say everything up to the word “fuck” and just abruptly stop. Luckily, All These Small Moments doesn’t suffer from this, not in the slightest. It’s not explicit by any means, but its profane nature which stems from angst and anger resonated with me in how it was able to build a sense of urgency and desperation with just the word “fuck.” It’s a small touch, but one that hits hard.
There’s also a major lack of pretension in All These Small Moments that stays with you. Sure, the film is based in Brooklyn with generally well-off white protagonists, but there isn’t any reliance on painting the uniqueness of the characters’ experiences from their painfully unaware privilege. Sure, it’s there, but there’s a sense of self-awareness about the film that gives it a refreshing sort of beauty that other films like this tend to miss in a cloud of self-importance.
The setup for All These Small Moments is exceedingly simple. Not every childhood is cinematic and grand, and maybe, just maybe, the big plot points of our upbringing are not the things we take with us into adulthood. For as much as adults love to tell children how much their petty issues don’t matter or how they aren’t as important to their life as “adult” problems will be, years later, when we all look back on our childhood, it’s the smaller, emotional moments that define us far more than any major events. The title is almost painfully on the nose in how it constructs itself around smaller, intimate, and emotional moments, and how it’s those moments, like life itself, that we take from the film itself.
All These Small Moments will be in Theaters on January 17, 2019 and On Demand and Digital HD on January 18, 2019.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.