Review by Sean Boelman
The depiction of learning disabilities and developmental disorders is notoriously tricky for filmmakers, yet there is a severe need for these underheard groups to get the on-screen representation they deserve. Hannah Black and Megan Petersen’s sweet road movie Drought offers an authentic and heartfelt perspective, allowing it to overcome its narrative shortcomings.
The film follows a woman, her older sister, their younger brother who is on the autism spectrum, and a childhood friend as they set out on a road trip to chase a storm. While Black and Petersen’s script doesn’t reinvent any of the tropes which it follows, they use a comfortable and familiar genre to say some really interesting and important things.
Expectedly, the message is about compassion and treating others with respect, and even though there are some moments that are certainly a bit over-the-top, but so much of the movie comes from a place of such genuine warmth that it’s hard not to feel moved by these characters and their story.
While there are some moments that are heartbreaking, there is a sense of adventure and fun to most of the film that is infectious. Like any great road movie, the purpose here is less the destination and more the journey. The growth that the characters experience over the course of their arcs is compelling and moving.
Something that makes this film interesting compared to a lot of other road movies is that it focuses almost entirely on the dynamic between the four main characters. There aren’t a lot of quirky bit players that they encounter on the road, and when there is a smaller part, it is just that — small.
Black and Petersen also star in the movie, and they obviously fit the material very well, both giving strong performances (Black gets the slight edge, if only because her part is a little meatier). That said, the true breakout here is Owen Schied, who in his lead role brings ample emotion and charm to the character.
The film is set in the 1990s and Black and Petersen do a solid job of periodizing it. Apart from that, the movie is shot in a mostly straightforward but still effective style. It’s obvious that the script and performances are the best things that the filmmakers have working for them, and in recognizing this, the film works a lot better.
Drought is a charming little movie with a great message — a crowd-pleaser wrapped up in less than an hour and a half. This one’s definitely worth a watch, but even if you miss it, expect to see it pop up again sooner rather than later.
Drought screens at the Enzian Theater as part of the Florida Film Festival on August 10 at 6:30pm. It is also available virtually (geoblocked to Florida) on August 10 only. The Florida Film Festival runs August 7-20 in Orlando, FL.