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By Brad Slager | October 7, 2005

While visiting some familiar ground in the teen-angst niche, director Mark Milgard takes us down some original avenues, and his cast plays it right, avoiding the self-conscious attitudes that often are the staple of younger set. By foregoing fashion and the “center-of-the-world” mentality that pervades teenagers, the two young leads—Vincent Kartheiser and Taryn Manning—bring a sense of reality to their roles. This combines with Milgard’s direction and choice of backdrops to make “Dandelion” an unassuming journey.

Halfway through I began to wonder what was so unique about what was taking place on screen and then the subtlety hit me. Unlike every other teenager in movies, for whom pedestrian problems are something to wail about, when a crisis of personal value occurred to the young teen Mason (Kartheiser) his stresses were not blown up to catastrophic levels and the world wasn’t about to end. Mason does the unique thing here—he deals with it.

When we meet Mason at the start he is surrounded by plenty of drama. His father is an emotional cul-de-sac who is prone to fits of anger. His mother is neglected and represses her unhappiness with prayer and vodka. Mason’s friends are a dead-end lot who favor smoking crank. And his locale—though striking in beauty—is isolated and lacking in the female demographic. Mason exists in this universe with no true connection to those around him, friend or family. Then his tiny rural community gets a pair of new residents, and his eye catches sight of the young girl Danny as she is moving in. The two begin to show signs of affection when events take over Mason’s life.

Always trying to find a way to make a connection with his father Mason approaches the man one night at the wrong time. Having just experienced a gripping episode himself he enlists Mason to assist him with the problem. As a result of his help Mason takes on a punishment that was unjustified. The film then flashes forward as the young man returns to his community, his family, and hopefully to Danny. Despite having to endure ostracism he returns to find that as a result he has a connection within his family that had not existed previously.

Mark Milgard, who also wrote the story, does an admirable job of keeping the emotions of the young actors in check, modulating them so that we get treated not to melodramatics but realistic emotions that are tangible. All of this is aided by the gorgeous cinematography of Tim Orr who highlights the colors of the landscape so that the panorama becomes its own character, and the actions of the young characters are set in a believable plane. Milgard does a tremendous job of telling a story, and of setting up in a manner that commands that you pay attention.

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