REVIEW: Hide Your Smiling Faces

30 11 2014

Hide Your Smiling FacesRiverRun International Film Festival

The coming-of-age film is quite common nowadays, in a way that almost transcends genre.  They came as comedies like “American Pie” or “Moonrise Kingdom,” dramas like “An Education” or “Mud,” and even action films like “Super 8.”

Those films, however, all seem to arrive at a point further forwards on the supposedly straight line towards maturity.  In the cinema, coming of age usually means something is gained.  Yet rarely do filmmakers ever discuss what is lost: innocence.

Enter Daniel Patrick Carbone’s “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” which occupies a very unique position in relation to its peers.  This debut feature neither yearns nostalgically for the simplicity or childhood nor exuberantly trumpets the virtues of growing up.  Carbone simply presents these events and their effects on the film’s young protagonists with a compelling sense of presence.

The focus of “Hide Your Smiling Faces” is not on the past or the future but rather the unspectacular now.  And from such a vantage point, Carbone can engross us all the more in the proceedings.  His film is so rooted in the present tense that it becomes effortless to sync the experience of watching “Hide Your Smiling Faces” with the discoveries of Tommy and Eric (Ryan Jones and Nathan Varnson, respectively).

And remarkably, Carbone even manages to achieve all of this with a chillingly distant and removed camera.  In spite of the film’s presumptively low budget, the look of “Hide Your Smiling Faces” closely resembles the aesthetic of well-financed “The Place Beyond the Pines.”  He and cinematographer Nicholas Bentgen capture the surprisingly striking beauty of the New Jersey forests (call it the anti-“Jersey Shore”), both in its spacious expanses and its secretive enclaves.

But more importantly, they capture adolescence in all its frustrations and confusions.  As Tommy and Eric attempt to make sense of several tragic events in their community, we observe them internalizing the anguish and ask profound questions about existence and mortality.  They have frank discussions about these events seemingly unrelated to them yet are shaping the very people they will turn out to be.

The 80 minutes we spend with them feel utterly complete, even though “Hide Your Smiling Faces” really only grants us the beginning of their journey towards an expanded mind.  In celebrating the importance of this initial phase without showing the ultimate destination, we come to appreciate the harrowing passage all the more.  B+3stars