Reach follows Steven (Garrett Clayton), a senior in high school, who plans to kill himself after his first day of school. He feels mostly invisible at school and his former best friend, Nick (Jordan Doww), is now his worst tormentor. The guilt he feels over his mother’s suicide and his dad’s subsequent emotional distance isn’t helping matters.
But when new kid Clarence (Johnny James Fiore) helps defend Steven from one of Nick’s attacks, the two quickly become best friends. Clarence’s parents traveled the globe in service of humanitarian needs, which means he grew up in different countries. His parents recently died in a motorcycle accident, so he now lives with his grandparents, which is why he is currently attending Steven’s school. His frankness and carefree spirit put the wound up Steven at ease.
As they bond over the school year, Nick’s home life is slowly deteriorating. His dad, Jack (Kevin Sizemore), is still on leave from the police department, in part due to his alcoholism. Jack blames everyone else but him, including Steven’s dad, who had an affair with Jack’s wife (Nick’s mother). Jack lashes out harshly towards anyone he believes stands in his way. Will Nick repeat the sins of his father? Does Steven find the will to keep living thanks to Clarence? What is the dark secret Clarence is hiding?
“…a senior in high school, who plans to kill himself after his first day of school.”
Reach hits several familiar notes along its noble path. Obviously, there is a scene where the more laid back Clarence convinces Steven to play hookey, and the band kid tries pot for the first time. There is also a third act breakup because of course there would be one! Clarence disappears for a while, neglecting even his friend’s birthday. Steven comes to check in on him and discovers that Clarence stole Steven’s pills (the ones he’s going to overdose on) from his backpack. Clarence gets pissed off that Steven however innocently intended the action, gave their drama teacher Clarence’s play; which was lent to Steven in confidence. It is a somewhat forced moment, in an otherwise naturally unfolding and engaging character study.
For every cliche or stereotype Reach’s screenplay- by Maria Capp, Grant Haring, and Johnny James Fiore- checks off, it avoids two or three at the same time. Clarence’s deadpan delivery of his life details, seem like they might be disingenuous posturing to impress his new school chums. But nope, every crazy thing, such as where and with whom he studied judo or what he was doing in Burma, is true. Another refreshing deviation from the formula is the fact that what would be a big moment in another movie is background detail here. At prom, Steven slow dances with Kimberly (Raffaela), Nick’s ex-girlfriend. It happens organically and is just a small moment between these two and is presented in an intimate fashion.
“…strong directing and a fun soundtrack. Coupled with a strong, charismatic cast and intelligent dialogue.”
Leif Rokesh’s direction isn’t the most stylish, but he delivers on the emotions of the characters in a big way. Most importantly though, he wrings remarkable performances out of a stunning cast. Fiore as the charming, confident Clarence is the glue that holds the movie together. If he came across as insincere or obnoxious, nothing about Reach would work. However, he delivers a confident and intense performance that is nothing short of brilliant. Clayton is equally as good as the muted Steven.
As Steven’s father Bojesse Christopher makes for a sympathetic figure, with his inability to relate to his son eating him up inside. Kevin Sizemore as the perpetual angry Jack is quite menacing, even if he can’t quite shake the one dimension the character is saddled with. Screenwriter Grant Harling has a small role as the drama teacher, Mr. Tony. He is a very kind, understanding presence, and it is easy to see why the students would open up to him. Raffaela doesn’t have much to do besides react to Nick being the worst. But she brings a lot of heart to the role.
Reach does have a few cliches, which come across as a tad forced. It overcomes this thanks to strong directing and a fun soundtrack. Coupled with a strong, charismatic cast and intelligent dialogue, this is a relatively original coming-of-age story.
Reach (2018) Directed by Leif Rokesh. Written by Maria Capp, Johnny James Fiore, Grant Harling. Starring Johnny James Fiore, Garrett Clayton, Jordan Doww, Raffaela, Grant Harling, Kevin Sizemore, Bojesse Christopher. Reach made its World Premiere at the 2018 Dances With Films.