Review by Sean Boelman
The feature debut of co-writer/director Grant McCord, Teenage Badass is a new coming-of-age dramedy set in the world of early 2000’s indie rock. However, apart from a few excellent moments, the script by McCord and Matthew Dho lacks the focus for the film to be particularly memorable.
The movie follows a teenage drummer with big aspirations as he joins an indie rock band and gets a shot at what he hopes will lead to fame and notoriety, only to find that everything does not go according to plan. Ultimately, the most frustrating thing about the film is that it seems to think it is being quirky and deep when in reality, it’s just another coming-of-age story.
Although the movie isn’t particularly long (it’s just over an hour and a half before credits), the derivative nature of the film is often annoying and wearisome. Every once in a while, there will be a witty scene that will remind the viewer of why they even wanted to watch the movie in the first place, only for it to fall back into the pattern of droll attempts at humor.
One of the film’s greatest successes is that it does have an idiosyncratic group of characters at its core, and the dynamic that forms between them is entirely believable. The movie does a very good job of busting through the archetypes that often define bands as portrayed on film, instead making the characters more three-dimensional.
That said, this also leads into the movie’s biggest missed opportunity, and that is that it has no emotional impact whatsoever. With character development as strong as this, it is baffling that McCord and Dho are unable to inspire any real reaction from the audience. Because the attempts at comedy lighten the mood but never land, viewers will be left unfulfilled.
All of the actors do a solid job in their role, the chemistry between the bandmates being one of the main selling points of the film. Evan Ultra is perhaps the movie’s biggest standout as the slightly unhinged frontman of the group, but everyone gets their chance to show their talents. As the lead, Mcabe Gregg is charming and likable.
On a technical level, there are a lot of inconsistencies in McCord’s style. For every beautiful shot, there is one that is poorly-composed. Furthermore, there are some unique stylistic decisions that are introduced in the film, like a running counter of the times a particular phrase is uttered by a character, but aren’t done consistently enough for them to work.
Teenage Badass shows that Grant McCord has a lot of potential as a filmmaker with a bit more refinement. The movie suffers from many of the common issues that first time directors experience, so perhaps on his next effort, these kinks will work themselves out.
Teenage Badass was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.