After his mother dies on the cusp of his teenage years, Kevin (James Badge Dale) begins running with a new crowd in town. Made up of misfits and other seemingly “fun before responsibility” personalities, this group of “NoNames” grows up in age but not necessarily in maturity. During a particularly carefree and raucous party, a drug dealing acquaintance of the group, Miller (Jamie Harrold), winds up raping Kevin’s girlfriend CJ (Gillian Jacobs). The action prompts the group to somewhat take stock in their actions and environment and Kevin specifically begins to question how they all got to where they are, and whether they should stay trapped in their own stunted adolescence.
NoNames is one of those films that has just enough of a glimpse of hope to elevate it beyond “bleak,” but just barely. Kevin’s commitment to changing and bettering his lot in life not only seems doomed the majority of the time, it also seems like he’s moving one step shy of the distance he really needs to go to make a difference. Sure, settling down and buying a house with CJ after the rape was a positive step, but staying in the same town where tragic events continue to occur undermines his own efforts.
Which is really what makes this film so frustrating to engage with; no one seems to really have it all that good, and while the film continually makes an effort to point out that the one thing the group really has going for it is each other, the group seems to be tripping each other up. I don’t want to spoil anything, but future tragedies that occur in the film could have been avoided if the group was really looking out for each other, instead of just adding fuel to the dramatic fires.
That frustration, however, is also part of the film’s strength and appeal. As someone who lived in a smalltown while in high school, I know both the allure and the damnation of choosing to stay there after my high school days were up. I decided to leave, but I know many who didn’t. The frustration doesn’t come in the choice to stay with friends or the familiarity in town initially, it comes in the choice to stay and persist when the environment and situation has completely turned for the worst; some don’t have a choice, and if you do have one, why wouldn’t you protect yourself and the ones you love, even if it means abandoning the familiar?
In the case of NoNames, Kevin has that choice but he seems more than content to ignore it for most of the film. Is it pride, battling to make good in an environment where things have turned sour? In some ways, sure, you could look at the nobility in the choice to persist in the face of continual calamity, but that type of nobility tends to walk hand-in-hand with tragedy. It’s hard to watch anyone, even a character in a film, continue to make decisions that you just know are going to end up badly eventually, regardless of their noble intentions.
To its credit, NoNames stirs up a lot of rough emotion even if, again, it’s pretty damn close to being a bleak cinematic experience. If you’re up for something that is raw and real, and you’re willing to watch characters put themselves through some seemingly avoidable heartache and turmoil, than this film is for you. While I enjoyed the film, in the sense that it is a well-done movie that spurred thought and emotion even though I didn’t enjoy many of things that happen in it, I don’t think it is something you watch when you’re already in a down mood. A double bill of this and The Wall, for example, wouldn’t be good for your emotional well-being.
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