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By Alan Ng | March 22, 2021

I’m starting to get the sense that the coming-of-age genre is really stories about young people coming to terms with bad parenting. Tony Ahedo’s ICON is the story of a teenager forced to reconcile his entire life as he discovers the truth of his absent father.

Sam’s (Parker Padgett) life is about to change when his maybe-girlfriend, Ana (Devon Hales), tells him she is pregnant. Ana needs $850 for an abortion, and Sam feels obligated to pay for it. Here, the bigger picture of Sam’s life begins to unfold. Sam lives with his single mother, Lisa (Julie Denton), who works long hours to provide Sam a good life. His father is not in the picture, and Lisa refuses to talk about him. Once close, the pregnancy is just something he can’t bring up with mom.

ICON is Sam’s story as an emotionally overburdened teenager. He loves Ana and tries to do right by financially helping her. Jobs are hard to find, especially when you’re young, inexperienced, and don’t have a car. He turns to a sketchy associate of his father, who gets him into the drug dealing game at school for extra cash.

You know where this is going. Mom now thinks Sam is going down the same path as this father and will have none of it. In an act of rebellion, Sam digs into his father’s whereabouts and history with his mother. The search isn’t hard, but what he finds changes everything for the worse.

“…she is pregnant with his baby. Ana needs $850 for an abortion…”

If you’ve seen your fair share of coming-of-age stories, specifically about kids growing up poor, ICON will feel pretty familiar. There’s really not much new to the overall plot. But what makes it work so well is plain, good old storytelling from the writer/director. It’s not just good, it’s great. The filmmaker takes enormous care and attention in the way the story plays out. Looking at the press notes, the story is a personal one and loosely based on Ahedo’s life.

Write what you know, and everything about ICON feels authentic. Though the plot on paper feels like a soap opera, it thankfully never becomes melodrama. Parker Padgett, as Sam, deserves a tremendous amount of credit for how brilliantly this story plays out. He carries the entire film and never falters along the way. I’ve worked with teenagers like Sam, and he never hits a false note.

Yes, there is an element of predictability. It’s not hard to figure out Ana’s final decision regarding her pregnancy. Then, Sam’s downward plummet with his crooked drug supplier… well, we know where this is going. Though it’s predictable, ICON rises above the clichés.

To me, the real heart of this story is Sam. His journey is complex, and the answers don’t come easy — which is pretty much how real life works. He juggles potential fatherhood, falling in love and maintaining a relationship with Ana, typical parent/teen drama, hanging with friends, and that whole drug dealing element. While made up of a lot of subplots, they are masterfully woven together. The fact that Sam has to figure out his own sh*t, in the end, makes me admire this story all the more.

I can’t say enough good things about ICON and its fresh take on the coming-of-age narrative. Strangely, it makes me think that if Ahedo has a bigger budget, it wouldn’t have been as good. Money can’t buy this kind of authenticity, particularly when you have studio suits meddling with the final product. Viva la indie!

ICON (2021)

Directed and Written: Tony Ahedo

Starring: Parker Padgett, Devon Hales, Julia Denton, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

ICON Image

"…takes enormous care and attention in the way the story plays out."

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