Our favorite coming of age films generally include a narrative safety net in the framework of the film… there’s nothing sharp and dangerous in the library in The Breakfast Club except daggers of wit. Comedies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have us laughing at the bittersweet angst of the transition to adulthood, but we always know from the beginning that Ferris will come through unscathed. Consider Revenge of the Nerds; the insurance policy is in the title. You are given no such guarantee in the thoughtful and moving Some Freaks. The bullying is real, the daggers are sharpened, blood is drawn and the effects are devastating and permanent.
“The bullying is real, the daggers are sharpened, blood is drawn and the effects are devastating and permanent.”
Matt (Thomas Mann) is a pariah nicknamed cyclops because he has one eye covered by a patch and the bullying over it has driven him far into social dysfunction. His only friend Elmo (Ely Henry) is gay but only out to Matt, on whom he imposes a verbal torrent of his every sexual fantasy out of lack of anyone else to talk to. Matt tolerates the gay porn stream of consciousness to keep their friendship intact. These guys are geeks clueless about approaching the objects of their desires. They are both broken and in their own ways as mean as the “normal” people who bully them.
Jill (Lily Mae Harrington) is Elmo’s overweight same-age aunt who comes to stay with his family and is intrigued by Matt until she catches Matt and Elmo telling their favorite fat girl jokes. Matt is mortified when he realizes she was listening, as he is genuinely interested in Jill. This sets the pattern in their relationship of hurting and reconciling repeatedly. Neither have seen a healthy relationship and have no idea what that even means.
Jill has a good sense of humor, though she is bitter. She is the most well adjusted of the group. She must not only bear the brunt of being the most advanced soul in her particular postal code, she must also absorb fat shaming as well as sexism from everyone. Most people who see any value in her at all are only interested because they believe fat girls are easy or because they fetishize large women. She’s understandably wary of people and hilariously acerbic.
The characters are not allowed martyrdom, no poster children against bullying with Sarah McLachlan music playing as we peer into their sad, liquid eyes. They are deeply flawed, good and bad, but generally speaking kind of a******s as willfully self destructive as they are damaging to each other.
Time and again Matt and Jill hurt each other and come back together. Matt’s rage at being an outsider is given full voice when his bond with Jill is threatened. No longer the pathetic object of sympathy he roars into full throated monster with her as his target.
The actors pour such intensity into the portrayals of rejection and hurt anger it’s hard to watch but their craft and purity of emotion is masterful.
“There’s been an ethos around these films that somehow deep inside we’re all geeks. It’s a pretty idea but it’s inaccurate.”
Some Freaks was written and directed by Ian MacAllister McDonald. Clearly McDonald has something to say about the struggle of the outcast from society and he does it well. Set in Rhode Island in winter, the cinematography is thin and washed out, as grim as the city itself.
There’s been an ethos around these films that somehow deep inside we’re all geeks. It’s a pretty idea but it’s inaccurate. Some people will see these characters and feel “there but for the grace of God…” and others will get painful reminders of when they were finding their own way in the world. The characters are authentic and deeply felt in this cathartic film.
Some Freaks (2017) Written and Directed by: Ian MacAllister McDonald. Starring: Lily Mae Harrington, Thomas Mann, Marin Ireland. (Some Freaks is in theaters August 4th, 2017.)
7 out of 10