- - Friday, February 9, 2024

“Suncoast” is a coming-of-age story where its young protagonist comes of age way, way too fast. Pixar’s “Turning Red” didn’t have me turning red. But it didn’t leave me tickled pink, either. “Out of Darkness?” Hardly. This film takes you to the heart of it.

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Turning Red – In Theaters, Streaming on Disney+

Ever since Pixar rolled out the landmark classic “Toy Story,” the studio has been known for telling some of the best cinematic stories of the age. And while Pixar’s movies are technically for kids, those labels can obscure the beauty, depth and resonance of the films themselves.

Up” is an astounding and affecting rumination on grief. “Inside Out” does nothing less than unpack the human psyche. Not every Pixar film has been a home run. Some have had their own issues. But generally, from “Finding Nemo” to “The Incredibles,” from “WALL-E” to “Soul,” Pixar films have generally pulled off a rare double achievement — offering audiences of all ages beautiful messages beautifully told.

Even “Brave” — not considered among Pixar’s best — bravely jumped headlong into the ticklish family dynamics between a demanding mother and headstrong girl and found some fertile middle ground therein. In the movie, Mom realized that she couldn’t turn daughter Merida into someone she was never born to be. But Merida understood that growing up meant embracing not just new freedoms, but new duties, too.

By those standards, “Turning Red” is a disappointment. Its own mother-daughter story skips the depth and maturity that’s been such a Pixar hallmark, leaning instead on a short-sighted, do-your-own-thing ethos. Indeed, in some ways, it’s almost the grinning doppelganger of “Brave.”

“Turning Red” starts where “Brave” ends — with Mei expressing an understanding that personal freedom and autonomy inherently need to be balanced with the needs of family and community. “I am my own person,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean doing whatever I want. Like most adults, I have responsibilities.”

But while “Brave” suggested that mature understanding was something that people grew into through adolescence, “Turning Red” suggests that’s something we should grow out of.

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“I like boys!” Mei eventually shouts at her mother. “I like loud music! I like gyrating! I’m 13! Deal with it!” In the movie’s ethos, this isn’t a childish temper tantrum: It’s a declaration of emancipation, Mei telling her mom that she was done following her rules. (And this at an age when child psychologists say that adolescents are literally, in some ways, a little crazy.) In fact, Mei even uses a spin on a pro-choice slogan that’s chilling for a couple of reasons: “My panda, my choice,” she says.

Now, admittedly, Mei’s rebellious panda stage comes with some lessons for mom and dad. Mei’s mother is pretty controlling. And as adolescents mature, parents can gradually ease up on the restrictions a bit — especially if their kids, like Mei, have proven themselves to be reliable. Teens need to have room to explore their individuality and test some limits; it’s part of growing up. Doubling down on rules and restrictions without context can indeed lead to rebellion and, sometimes, fractured relationships.

But this story lacks the nuance or the fortitude to show where Mei was wrong, too. The movie suggests that, while family values are all well and good, the individual trumps all. It’s the ethos of the “me generation,” just spelled M-E-I.

And that’s not the only way that “Turning Red” slips from Pixar’s historically sky-high podium. While the story’s entertaining, it’s not engrossing. It’s competently, but not beautifully, made. And while many of Pixar’s best didn’t have a whit of Plugged In content concerns, this has plenty — from its spirituality to frank sexual asides to a few crass words and phrases.

Sure, you can find plenty of worse fare out there for children. “Turning Red” didn’t have me turning red. But it didn’t leave me tickled pink, either. And given Pixar’s lofty pedigree, that left me feeling rather blue.

Read the rest of the review here. Watch the trailer here.

Suncoast – Streaming on Hulu

“Suncoast” was written and directed by Laura Chinn, and the story is at least party autobiographical. It’s dedicated to her own brother, Max, who died in 2005 when Chinn was in high school. And compared to Chinn’s own teenage years, Doris’ experiences might seem positively innocent. (In an interview with “The Wrap,” Chinn says that she could “just walk out my front door and didn’t have to come home until three in the morning … which obviously led to getting in trouble.”)

Those experiences show here. The world we see is filled with sex and drugs, harsh imagery and obnoxious behavior. A reviewer or two has applauded the film for showing that debauchery as a trigger for Doris to break out of her shell and blossom. You could look at “Suncoast” and see, on the most superficial level, echoes of the incredibly problematic TV-MA show “Euphoria” — where jaw-dropping amounts of sexual promiscuity and substance abuse are not just depicted, but depicted as normal

I get all that. But I see a little more here.

“Suncoast” is indeed a coming-of-age story, one in which Doris comes of age far more quickly than most parents would like to see. But it’s also a story about grief and healing. It’s more focused on Doris’ family than it is her friends. And the film feels surprisingly open-handed to all of its characters — pushing against their stereotypes and sinking into their stories.

Doris’ friends are terrible influences, yes. But they are, on some level, real friends, too. And her mother seems perpetually shrill and angry — until Kristine comes to grips with her grief and loss and softens as a result. Paul could’ve been a cardboard cutout Christian protestor, as so many other films would’ve made him. But in “Suncoast”, he feels real. Sincere. Compassionate.

More movies these days come with a desire to preach or teach. But “Suncoast,” if it does have a lesson to offer, is more simple, straightforward.

And that lesson? Every life is precious, it says. Even the lives of those who disagree with us. Even those who are unpleasant or unrepentant. “Suncoast” asks us to be bold enough to consider that we’re all more than who we might seem on the surface. And granting the many problems that “Suncoast” has on its surface, that’s not a bad message to hold.

Read the rest of the review here. Watch the trailer here.

Out of Darkness – In Theaters

We don’t see a lot of Stone Age horror movies hit theaters. And while I can’t see that “Out of Darkness” will become part of a trend, the movie, for what it is, has its merits.

On the surface, “Out of Darkness” seems to be a monster movie — where a strange creature lurks at the edges of the fire in the folds of an inky black night; where towering trees become a cathedral of terror. But dig a little (with your painstakingly stone-carved tools, of course), and you’ll find that the film is as much about the monstrous tendencies inside the movie’s own characters — and, by extension, how those tendencies may lurk inside us. The story talks about how hunger and fear and rage can lead us down terrible paths, and how our understandable desire to live can kill us a bit, too.

That makes “Out of Darkness” more thoughtful, more probing, than your typical bloody monster movie. But, of course, that’s also the source of its biggest problems.

“Out of Darkness” is violent, gruesome and deeply disturbing at times. It shows us the stark brutality of living — and dying — in the Stone Age, a time before Moses’ law and Jesus’ grace, a time where folks were making the rules as they went along. Those rules were stark and simple: One, you survive any way you can. Two — if you’re strong enough — you take what you want (and whoever you want) from those weaker than you. There is no sense of justice here. You either live or you don’t. And if you don’t, you may die in some spectacularly brutal ways.

One of the most memorable scenes in “Out of Darkness” isn’t particularly frenetic or violent: It’s Beyah sitting by the fire. She’s staring with dead eyes at nothing, stoically chewing her dinner … the flesh of a fallen tribe member.

“Out of Darkness?” Hardly. This film takes you to the heart of it.

Read the rest of the review here. Watch the trailer here.

Plugged In is a Focus on the Family publication designed to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving families the essential tools they need to understand, navigate, and impact the culture in which they live. Through our reviews, articles and discussions, we hope to spark intellectual thought, spiritual growth and a desire to follow the command of Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

Reviews written by Paul Asay.

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