Frybread Face and Me Image

Frybread Face and Me

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | December 12, 2023

NOW ON NETFLIX! Only in Narnia will you find a boy more devoted to a white witch than the Stevie Nicks-loving Benny (Keir Tallman) in indigenous writer/director Billy Luther’s charming coming-of-age story Frybread Face and Me. 1990, San Deigo. When 11-year-old Benny’s dad isn’t around, he loves to dress up like Stevie Nicks with his mom, Ann (Morningstar Angeline), and dance around. He’s been saving up for the summer Fleetwood Mac concert, but his dad has other ideas. Benny is going to go to his grandmother’s isolated sheep ranch outside Winslow, Arizona, to learn to be a man.

Getting off the bus, Benny is met by his couch-surfing Aunt Lucy (Kahara Hodges), who gets by selling handmade jewelry. Uncle Marvin (Martin Sensmeier) pokes fun at Benny’s Stevie Nicks-esque cowgirl hat. Grandmother Lorainne (Sarah H. Natani) never learned English and speaks only in Navajo, which Benny doesn’t know. Lucky for him, cousin Frybread (Charley Hogan) speaks both, and she has also been dropped off for the summer. There isn’t much to do at Grandma’s except herd sheep and learn to weave. There’s no television, and the only VHS is an overdue copy of Starman. Benny tries to plot a way back to San Diego in time for the concert, as he feels he doesn’t fit in. However, with Frybread’s help, he starts to learn a little more about life than he was expecting to in the middle of nowhere.

Frybread Face and Me will charm the pants right off of you. I wasn’t planning to spend any time at an Arizona sheep ranch on the reservation, but then again, neither was Benny. It is incredible how lush a world you can find in a place so barren. You don’t need to have any background in Navajo culture to get what is going on, as you and Benny will be picking it up together. A unique element of this particular adolescent study is the rebellion of gender roles. The disapproving machismo reaction to Benny’s fluidity is dealt with unusually but puts a lot into perspective. The queer themes are filtered through a 1990 haze of adolescent comprehension, such as being a lesbian is based on whether you have armpit hair or not.

Benny is going to go to his grandmother’s isolated sheep ranch outside Winslow, Arizona, to learn to be a man.”

Luther found excellent acting talent to help bring the drama to life. Sensmeier, at first, seems like a representation of aggressive male enforcement until events reveal the actual depth of his character. Hodges lights up the screen like a big fat joint whenever she appears. Natani is astounding in the way monuments stand tall. I could listen to her speak about the life philosophies of weaving in Navajo for hours. Hogan is a superstar, vacillating between very self-assured and flashes of vulnerability. A lot of what makes this film special rests squarely upon her shoulders. Tallman is a fighter jet. His performance is completely authentic, almost to the point that he transcends the entire notion of acting. Tallman and Hogan repeatedly bring brilliance to the movie like little northern lights.

If you have been fiending all year for a quality drama that shares a different world, then Frybread Face and Me is what you have been waiting for. Luther’s deft screenplay ably gets across a lot of complicated family business in just a few strokes. It’s also fun to see the analog jungle of boomboxes, VCRs, and Walkmans that comprised the lost world Gen Xers came up in. So, hats off to the art direction by Natalie Benally for keeping it real. Also, Peter Simonite’s camerawork is stunning, with more clever details than there are stars in the sky.

Frybread Face and Me (2023)

Directed and Written: Billy Luther

Starring: Keir Tallman, Charley Hogan, Sarah H. Natani, Kahara Hodges, Morningstar Angeline, Martin Sensmeier, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Frybread Face and Me Image

"…this is going to charm the pants right off of you."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon