Every good coming-of-age film needs strong, quirky, yet personable characters who go through the agony of youth. If it’s set in an overrated small town that feels more like a prison, so much the better. When these characters bond over their dreams of experiencing something bigger and brighter, even better. And if you start hallucinating time travelers from the future too, then you’re off on a crazy journey. In this way the new film AntarcticFollowing two best friends in their senior year of high school, feels less like the raunchy, female-led comedy Bookmaker and more like the off-kilter Napoleon Dynamite in the way it uses the craziness of a small town to highlight the craziness of growing up.
[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for Antarctica.]
in the Antarctic, grumpy, Janet (Kimmie Muroya) is given mood-altering drugs (marketed as a gentle way to be more sociable as a woman), which makes her hallucinate. She meets a boy who claims he is from the future and the two begin a romance. Meanwhile, shy Kat (Chloë Levine) is the target of rumors after an unfortunate party that escalates when she discovers she is pregnant. The two steer their newly strained friendship as they grapple with different topics and their dream of escaping their small, overwhelming city.
The movie works best with director Keith Bearden acting up the craziness and bringing the characters together, but it would be stronger if Kat and Janet’s storylines shared more of a solid thread. Antarctica ‘s Parts feel separate where a more solid link could have sewn them together into something greater than the sum of its parts. But as it stands, these pieces, while sturdy on their own and at times beautifully poignant, still feel like detached vignettes.
Janet’s mishaps blur the line between reality and the side effects of her medication. Her story is arguably the more interesting because it is so surreal and unfamiliar, which means the plot lines are surprising and unexpected. Kat’s story is more familiar and rooted in reality, but when juxtaposed with Janet’s, it hobbles along without that much response. They all share a theme about what it’s like to grow up as a young woman in a closed-off small town that doesn’t take young people seriously, but there’s a slight dissonance between the hazy reality of Janet’s story and the awkward reality of Kat that’s just the way it is annoying that it hampers the overall tone of the movie.
The best scenes in the film happen when the girls are together. Sometimes it’s a typical youth film scene in which they climb onto a roof to exchange ideas – and spy on their neighbors. But in AntarcticBearden is the most powerful sequence and uses muted vignettes to capture big emotions. When Kat tells Janet she is pregnant she does it via voice over while faceless hands pass pictures of the girls around in picture frames and on phone screens. The two then look up at the glowing stars on the ceiling above them.
Tying the whole film together, however, is the low key dark humor. While Kat and Janet have comedic moments, the film makes fun of the devious delivery of absurd background details and information. At a school meeting, the headmaster doesn’t even blink while commenting on gang-style murders that happen in a nearby elementary school. A recurring gag is the idolization of Ronald Reagan by the history teacher. None of these elements are necessarily out of the realm of possibility, but taken to the utmost, they emphasize the unusual nature of the city, which actually makes Janet’s time travelers seem plausible.
When Janet learns what exactly is going on with her time traveler, it is a revelation that fits well into the film’s somewhat absurd tone – not entirely speculative fiction, but a stranger version of reality. In the moments when Kat’s plot leans into this absurdity, the two storylines come so close. However, the best moments happen when the two girls find solace in the chaos. Their little town may be deeply strange, and their own lives may only get crazier, but they have each other. Like Napoleon and Deb make up while they end up playing tetherball Napoleon Dynamite, Kat and Janet put on makeup in a soft, understated moment. What is a coming-of-age movie if not just the friends we made along the way?
Antarctic is now available for digital rental in the Microsoft Store and through on-demand services.