Wednesday, 24 August 2016

REVIEW - THE PHENOM (NOAH BUSCHEL)


Boys playing baseball: it's enough to cure me of even the deepest insomnia. I had thought that the only thing more tiresome would be to hear those boys whine about the struggles of playing baseball; The Phenom has me convinced neither one way nor the other as to the verity of that thought. There's precious little actual baseball in Noah Buschel's movie, and all that whining amasses a significant degree of substance in Johnny Simmons' young prodigy's very legitimate ennui. Surprisingly, it's not the premise of The Phenom that irks me. These themes - the pressure of conformity to cultural standards of masculinity, the emotional abuse of a damaged father on his damaged child, a young man's resultant mental deterioration - are worthy ones, and Buschel understands them finely, his actors committing to these well-developed roles with sensitivity. What irks me is that the whole film is rather too well-developed. Though Buschel is adept at directing the viewer's thoughts toward those of his characters, and designs a few mannered shots to accentuate the effect, his directions are much too blunt to lend his film the dramatic credibility it requires. All attempts at naturalism, and the film is literally full of them, start to crumble as each perfectly-put line of dialogue is spoken, too intelligently and succinctly expressing the characters' state of mind. One perhaps even yearns for the elegant, muscular simplicity of actual baseball footage, as a refreshing counterpoint to the incessant (and occasionally painfully rudimentary) theorizing. My insomnia remains, but The Phenom was right on the verge of banishing it for good... or at least for 90 minutes.