DVD Review - The Wise Kids

Molly Kunz (left), Allison Torem (middle)
and Tyler Ross (right) in "The Wise Kids"
Stephen Cone's look at the year in the life of a youth church group is an interesting coming-of-age that on the surface seems like it's about three teenagers who are at the forefront of the church group, but the real coming-of-age occurs for the thirty-something pastor who has had a kind of arrested development. Stephen Cone stars as Austin, a director at the church and at the outset he's putting together a pageant for Easter where the teens will tell the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a play. The story ends with Austin putting on the Christmas pageant and the teens doing the birth of Jesus Christ with a couple of the kids playing the three Wise Men.

Austin is married to Elizabeth, played by Sadieh Rifai. Austin has been married for 8 years. He lives in a very small town where pretty much everybody knows everybody else. He's a director at a church. He doesn't preach or sermonize. He instead focuses on the theater aspects. He is however slightly upset when he learns that one of the teenagers who goes to his church and who is in the theater group is leaving after graduation to become a filmmaker in New York City.

Tyler Ross (Nate & Margaret) stars as Tim, the aspiring filmmaker who is devoted to his church but who needs to get away. On the surface, it might be because the opportunities to be a filmmaker are more available in New York, but, underneath the surface, the reason Tim wants to get away might be because Tim is gay and there's no way he could explore his sexuality in this small town.

Molly Kunz co-stars as Brea, the best friend of Tim as well as the daughter of the church's preacher. Like Tim, she likes the church and is devoted, but she's starting to have her doubts, and wonders if she only believes what she does because her dad is who he is. This is opposed to Laura, played by Allison Torem, who is very strict about the Bible and who goes off on people who aren't. Laura wants to be cool though but hates being called or thought as stupid. The polar opposite trajectory of Brea and Laura is kicked off when Brea reveals to Laura that Tim is gay and Laura reveals that she really has a problem with it.

As a result, the rest of the movie has this as an undercurrent. Sexuality is always a good way of challenging religion, but Cone isn't necessarily here to challenge Christianity. Despite having characters who distance themselves from the church, all-in-all Cone has nothing but love for the church. The ending is a little open as to what will become of Austin. He makes a huge step that shows more growth in those few minutes than in the past 8 years, but given his situation it's questionable if he'll make any additional steps.

What's incredibly meta about this movie is Cone shows himself directing as Austin who is a director. Austin is able to coax some great performances out of Brea, but Cone is able to get great performances out of all his actors, including himself.

Surprisingly, in a movie that has no arguments or screaming matches, the drama and tension are all still strong, even in people's politeness and soft-spoken nature. There are just a series of great scenes often between two characters that are simply well-written and well-acted. One scene that was short was when Elizabeth asks Austin to sing her a song. It foreshadows a later moment during their anniversary when Austin can't perform for his wife.

Another great scene is between Tim and his father. One thinks the awkwardness will come from his father asking Tim about being gay but the real awkwardness instead comes from Tim asking his father about getting back into the dating world. It's a great example of Cone being sweet, sensitive and subtle in his writing and direction, and showing how his movie has a touching sense of humor and sincere sense of heartwarming.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.


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