This is the Amir Motlagh film I’ve been waiting to see, and I have to say it is his best, most complete effort to date. It’s a documentary, but done in his signature style, which means it’s a lot like watching memories plucked from someone’s psyche and then randomly edited into a final project — yet it still seems coherent.
The film focuses on the life of Michael, a twenty-four-year-old
Filipino American who grew up in Southern California. He describes how he went from break dancing in the eighth grade to being in a gang and then moving on to attend college. It seems like fairly simple stuff, but Michael’s journey perfectly mirrors the difficult choices many young men (and some women) have to make. The consequences of these decisions are shown as Michael remembers his friends, some of whom he describes as the kindest people you’d ever meet. Those kind souls are now doing time, and Michael is free to pursue break dancing once again.
Michael’s story is also peppered with other people’s memories of the eighth grade, which gives viewers a jolt of reality as they remember what life was like back then. When you’re that young, you aren’t always thinking straight, and fun and fighting seem to go hand-in-hand. Reputations must be made and territory staked. Hormones are surging, but no one really knows what to do with them. By using these stories, Motlagh places us in the moment and makes us think of what we did and how easy it seems to make those aforementioned tough choices without really thinking them through.
Motlagh’s films can be hard to watch for people who are only familiar with standard, Hollywood-type movies. Sometimes this works to his benefit … sometimes not. This one works better than anything he’s done before, and I consider myself fortunate to have seen it.