Lean On Pete Leans A Bit Too Heavily on Pathos at SXSW

 

Lean on Pete is a heartwarming film that re-introduces us to a promising new young actor  being asked to carry the weight of the movie as its  leading man. And this is nothing if not a weighty movie/  Charlie Plummer is that new young leading man. He seems more than up to the task.  He played the young Getty heir (John Paul Getty III) whose ear was severed during a kidnapping in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World.” He almost became the new Spiderman, but lost the role of Spidey to Tom Holland.

Lean on Pete
Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete is the name of a horse that represents stability and love in the life of a young boy who, as the film evolves, seems to suffer the trials of Job. His dad drinks too much. His mother abandoned him. His best friend, a horse, is facing possible death.  And those are the less depressing parts. At one point, his father, Ray, says, “I ain’t worth a shit, but I like being here with you.” That about sums it up.

When our young hero happens by a nearby stable in yet another new town where race horse owner Steve Buscemi is struggling to change a tire, Charlie’s life changes—for the better, at first. He gets a job for $25 to help Del (Steve Buscemi) out as he travels the quarter horse circuit with his horses, including the aging Lean on Pete.

Throughout, there is talk of an Aunt Margie who represents home and security, but there has been a falling out between Ray and Margie in the past, and she and Ray don’t talk any more. Aunt Margie will become more important as the plot thickens.

THE GOOD

Charlie Plummer has a vulnerable quality that comes through to the audience.  I will say that, having taught young men in this age range, they were never this universally well-behaved. The film was moving along nicely until the third act, when it seemed to slow to a crawl. If one more bad thing were to happen to this boy, it seemed like he should never be able to recover.

The idea of Charlie’s character, Charley Thompson, being always on the move and never having food on the table or any stability in his life is bad enough, but when his father (Ray, well played by Travis Fimmel) is injured and he learns that the horse (Lean On Pete) he has come to love may be sold to be killed and made into dog food in Mexico, that is too much for the sensitive and extremely well-behaved 15-year-old.

The film becomes all about his quest to “save” Lean on Pete by kidnapping him  and going on a quest to find his Aunt Margie.

THE BAD

To say that Charlie has a lot of things go wrong in his young life is an understatement. Writer-director Haigh really piles on the misery. Yet Charlie does not cry, no matter what, until the very end, and then we can’t really “see” him crying, because he is resting his head on another’s shoulder.

I didn’t think that Charlie Plummer looked particularly at ease around the horses, either, and the idea that he never learned or tried to ride one seemed odd, to me. What teenage boy who is in charge of walking several quarter horses around in a rig and is practically living at the track doesn’t want to ride one of them, at least one time? When given the chance, he turns it down.

Lean on Pete
Lean on Pete

 

I also thought that Chloe Sevigny was miscast as a female jockey. Rumor is that she was originally approached to play Charlie’s Aunt Margie, but wanted the jockey role, which she didn’t really fit, as jockeys are usually extremely small both in stature and poundage. Chloe didn’t really look the part. Steve Buscemi even makes a remark about her being too big to be a jockey, and she responds that she only weighs 123 pounds.

Steve Zahn as a character named “Silver” was not much better in the casting department and added little to the film. If they had taken out “Silver’s” role, the movie might have made it to a better length and I wouldn’t be out $99 for the parking for my car in downtown Austin for being 15 minutes late (They booted it).

For me, the film, which runs 2 hours and 1 minute, should have been closer to 90 minutes long. I say this for a variety of reasons that have to do with the plot really slowing down to a crawl in the third act after a pivotal event that I won’t reveal here. But it also has to do with the fact that I paid the parking lot for a 90 minute film and, because this one ran 121, my car was booted. The free film ended up costing me $99  and a great deal of grief. The oh-so-efficient booting girl—who made me wait 15 minutes more while she booted 3 other cars—-would not  budge on the idea that I am a stranger to downtown Austin at the SXSW Film Festival (and Conferences) and should be shown some Texas hospitality. She said I could “take it up with the appeal” people. I called. They handle 7 cities. (“Push 6 for Austin”). I pushed 6 for Austin, started relating my tale of woe, and whoever was on the other line hung up. Counting the parking in Chicago for the Film Festival there in October on lower Illinois, I’m now “out” $544 for parking for “free” movies. (Yikes!)

VERDICT:

If you want to see a young star on the rise, check out Lean on Pete, but don’t expect to come out humming a happy tune. It’s a grim look at a young boy in turmoil who is coping much better than most adults would have coped.  A key exchange in the film: “I don’t want to beg for anything and I didn’t want them to know what it was like. I’d rather they never see me again than see me like this. But you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do.  When you don’t have anywhere else to go, you’re kind of stuck.”

It is also true that you’re kind of “stuck’ when they boot your car for being (about) 20 minutes late  returning to the parking lot and, when you try to “appeal,” they hang up on you.

Genre: Drama
Directed and written by: Andrew Haigh
Cast:  Charlie Plummer, Travis Fimmel, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Steve Zahn
Running Time: 2 hours and 1 minute

 

(*Check out www.WeeklyWilson.com if you want to know how 2 young screenwriters from Bettendorf, Iowa (my neck of the woods) got the plum job of scripting “A Quiet Place,” the Opening Night film at SXSW, with actual pictures of “Beck & Woods” as Director/Star John Krasinski called them. It’s a dynamite film, and I’ll be back to tell you about that in the near future.

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  • 7/10
    Acting - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Cinematography - 8/10
  • 6/10
    Plot/Screenplay - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Setting/Theme - 6/10
  • 5/10
    Buyability - 5/10
  • 3/10
    Recyclability - 3/10
5.8/10

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo's Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.