The “coming-of-age” sub-genre is one of the most thematically diverse and abundantly rewarding. Its films provoke vast emotional reactions, they make us laugh, allow us to remember what it was like to be young, and offer limitless insight into living, humanity, and love. Yet, despite all this positivity and relevance, these films remain on the periphery of mainstream cinema, but I digress. So far this year, two of the best films released, “Mud” and “The Way, Way Back,” fall into this category. And while at TIFF 2013, I was fortunate enough to catch another hidden coming-of-age gem, David Gordon Green’s “Joe.” Although it has yet to receive an official release, I’m more than content to deem “Joe” a sublime finale to what I’ve dubbed as 2013's “coming-of-age” trilogy…”Mud” and “The Way Way Back” being the other two entries. While not as obviously strong structurally and story-wise, “Joe” rivals it’s brethren in nearly every other aspect.
Now, If we dig a bit deeper, the “coming-of-age” sub-genre can be broken down into more specific tangents. For example “Joe,” much like its trilogy partners, fits into the “finding-yourself-a-mentor” class. In which the adolescent protagonist finds a rough, off-beat, anti-heroic kindred spirit to ease the very trying transition into adulthood. All three flicks have this plot point in common. Additionally, each protagonist, in one way or another, comes from a broken home. The list of commonalities goes on and on, but that’s besides the point. What I’m driving at is that although each film has some labelled similarities, each brings their own uniqueness to the fold and differ significantly. “The Way, Way Back” shares a lot of DNA with the romantic comedy, while “Mud” offers more of a veritable, serious, realistic gaze into the loss of innocence and growing up. “Joe” is much darker and focuses equal parts on the protagonist and anti-hero.
Out of all three, I’d say that Green’s film is the one that most plays out like a movie, if that makes any sense? I mean, “coming-of-age” films arguably relate most to real life and are the most receptive to a connection with the audience. With “Joe,” it might be more difficult to relate due to its violent, depressing nature. I guess what I’m saying is that out of the three films released this year, while not overly cinematic as to hamper the film, “Joe” is the most dramatic and far-fetched, which I am not claiming to be a bad thing.
Its progression of events is nothing that you haven’t heard or seen before, but this is also not necessarily a bad thing. While none of the three films present any tactic or vantage point that hasn’t been utilized before. The “coming-of-age” sub-genre has a fairly basic list of criteria that needs to be met, so it’s all essentially been done before and this is no filmmakers fault. That being said, the story, characters, and circumstances are all subjected to change, which is what separates each film…but what sends the superior over the top is the investment of the personnel. And much like “The Way, Way Back” and “Mud,” “Joe” has a dedicated, veteran, youthful ensemble, both on and off screen.
Much like the other genre films released this year. David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is a highly-visual piece. Using the lovely states of Texas and California as a contrasting backdrop to the upsetting, violent elements of the film. Additionally, David Wingo, who composed the original score for “Joe,” compliments the immensity and atmosphere of the scenery impeccably. On occasion however, the sheer uncomfortableness, violence, and stomach-churning family drama is too much to handle, let alone subdue.
Even though “Joe” is a return to form for director David Gordon Green. This dark, southern drama is as much a showcase for its three leads: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and the late Gary Poulter. Sheridan continues to prove that he’s the next big thing with another heartfelt, courageous performance, much like that of his in “Mud.” Mark my words, if this boy continues making films of this caliber, there’s not doubt in my mind he will skyrocket to stardom. As for Cage, truthfully, he hasn’t been this stellar in a good long while. Parading around with his usual confidence and flair, Cage is funny, passionate, and ruthless. Yet, as impressive as Cage, Sheridan, and Green are, the incredible story and performance of Gary Poulter steals the show. Poulter, prior to being cast in the film was homeless. Initially intended to be cast in a supporting role, Poulter stunned Green and eventually landed a significant part. Sadly, he passed away shortly after the film wrapped and Green dedicated the film to his memory. Poulter’s portrayal alone is worth checking out this flick.
Incredibly performed, visually mesmerizing, and presenting a story that’s hard to ignore. David Gordon Green’s “Joe” is an impressive outing for all involved.