I love seeing movies at film festivals. It is only at a festival that you can see films in their pure, virginal form. That is, before they are ruined by movie marketing requiring that we know every plot turn through the trailers and posters. It’s the cinematic equivalent of taking a strikingly beautiful woman and adding too much make-up, gallons of perfume, sleazy clothes and dressing her up like a slut.
I prefer the sense of surprise and discovery that comes with seeing a film at a festival. I’ll often see a movie based solely on the title alone or a short, often cryptic description. However, there is one phrase that always stands out to me. One that will make me avoid seeing an indie film. That phrase is “coming of age.” Virtually every “coming of age” film I’ve seen at a festival results in a tortuous experience. There’s nothing more dull than watching a young filmmaker work through their early life crises and personal problems using their parent’s money and friend’s hard work. I avoid “coming of age” films at festivals like the corner crack w***e.
When I caught “A Million Miles,” I had not read the description and rushed to the screening simply because the time was available. And what flashed before me on the screen was, indeed, a “coming of age” movie. Immediately my prejudices kicked in and I slumped in my seat to wait out the running time. But what happened next is rare – “A Million Miles” delivered exceptional performances with realistic characters, all tied up in an unconventional “coming of age” tale.
Set on the Jersey Shore, Jimmy Gordon (Ben Carney) is torn between family, his hometown, his on-again, off-again relationship with his ex-girlfriend and the choice to leave it all for something more on the other side of the country. What follows is Jimmy’s struggle to overcome these obstacles while taking on the daily grind of a nowhere dayjob.
Director Bryan Sipe guides his actors with realistic-sounding dialog resulting in believeable performances and a cast of likeable characters. Most notable among the co-stars are Ray Jarrell and Duane Langley who provide the drama and the comic relief for Jimmy’s personal journey. I’d like to party with these guys. The acting approach of the entire ensemble cast was based in the realm of “real people.” You’ve met genuine people like Ray and Duane – these are not clichés or “movie people” – these are friends and family. Sipe was also able to secure the rights to Bruce Springstein music for the film’s soundtrack, which serves to echo Jimmy’s heartache.
I love to be proven wrong and “A Million Miles” gives me faith that an earnest indie film can work. A solid indie debut from director Sipe who proves that when “coming of age” films are done right, they can be moving and inspiring.
Get the interview with the film’s director in DIRECTOR COMING OF AGE: BRYAN SIPE>>>