Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Isabelle Fuhrman, Evan Ross, Virginia Madsen, Danny DeVito, Hannah Barefoot
Written by: Michael Johnson
Directed by: Michael Johnson
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 76
Date: 02/20/2015

All the Wilderness (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Inner Animals

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As a debut feature for writer/director Michael Johnson, All the Wilderness is a remarkable achievement. Many young filmmakers tell somewhat similar coming-of-age stories about lost characters, but Johnson allows the movie itself to become a place that his young hero can get lost in. The camera sadly searches and roams, never quite finding any answers, or anyplace to land. The main character's narration ventures further into dreamy, primal themes.

James (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a difficult time dealing with his father's death. He sees a shrink (Danny DeVito) about his antisocial behavior, and spends his time filling a notebook with drawings of dead animals. He exasperated mother (Virginia Madsen) tries to get him to enroll in a special school that she thinks will help. Out wandering around, James meets an orphan pianist Harmon (Evan Ross), and runs into a girl he crossed paths with in the shrink's office, Val (Isabelle Fuhrman). As he becomes more involved in a world of abandoned buildings, skateboarders and parties, he finds that he can no longer keep the truth about his father inside.

Thankfully, the movie does not collapse into a grungy-looking, hand-held mess. Johnson prefers a dreamy look, a slow, meditative tone in which feelings, details, and ideas can be absorbed. The movie doesn't tell its story, it feels it. At only 76 minutes, the movie may feel slight, but it's no more slight than a well-written short story. Johnson's touch with actors is equally instinctive; the performances are all fine, and Madsen, especially, is terrific in her sympathetic role.

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