Can becoming beautiful make you unattractive?
That is the question I take away from the film Some Freaks, which opens in theaters this weekend. The film is about two high school social outcasts, Jill, an obese girl and Matt, a boy with only one eye. At first, their interactions are a bit awkward, but their attraction to each other develops because, in their own way, each is a “freak,” and they become a couple. Their time together, however, is cut short upon graduating, as Jill moves back home across the country to attend college. After six months, Matt buys himself a prosthetic eye and flies over to visit Jill. Upon arriving, he discovers that Jill went on a diet and lost the majority of her weight. Will these two be able to stay together despite these changes?
One phrase comes to mind after viewing Some Freaks, and that is ‘refreshingly raw.’ This kind of story, where two outcasts fall in love, has been done multiple times before, and has become a bit standard. What Some Freaks does, however, is move beyond this basic story, finding a new area of the relationship to explore, namely how this couple tries to get comfortable with each other’s personal attempts to become “normal,” since the glue that held their relationship together was the fact that neither of them believed they were. This exploration leads to some uncomfortable scenes.
For example, Matt, still uneasy about Jill’s sudden body change, tries to make her gain her weight back by pushing her to eat high-calorie food. When she refuses, he goes so far as to force-feed her. She is emotionally hurt by this, especially when Matt tells her that she is still fat and that won’t change. Jill responds with Winston’s Churchill’s “I will one day be thin” to emphasize that while she can lose weight, Matt will always have only one eye. Matt’s actions seem unsympathetic, and, without a doubt, detestable, but they do not come from a place of cruelty, and neither does Jill’s insult for that matter. They come out of each one’s fear that the other is now blending in with the crowd that had treated them both as “freaks.” If they are both normal, what will make them attractive to each other?
The complexity of the characters, even the minor characters, is part of what makes this movie especially effective. For example, Elmo, Jill’s nephew, is gay, and is in love with a member of the school’s basketball team, who is a homophobe. When Matt breaks that truth to Elmo in the first third of the film, Elmo, jealous over Matt and Jill’s newfound happiness, blurts out all the embarrassing moments of Jill’s life, and threatens to tell their mother about Jill’s relationship, forcing Jill to move away. Elmo’s actions render him unsympathetic for some time, until he shows genuine regret for those actions. Another character, Patrick, has been interested in Jill since high school, and eventually, he and Jill end up attending the same college. After Jill and Matt’s fight, Patrick appears to be supportive of Jill, but then shows himself to be less than compassionate.
Thomas Mann does a fantastic job in his role as Matt (although, similar to both Project X and Me Earl and the Dying Girl, his characters don’t really know how to talk to the ladies). Every actor, in fact, does a good job in his or her role, but the real standout is Lily Mae Harrinton as Jill. She creates an interesting personality for Jill, making her vulnerable, but at the same time, giving her a sense of humor.
In addition to the complex characters and the great acting, the look of the film is distinctive and lends itself to the film’s heartbreaking themes. During the first third of the film, I was turned off by the handheld camerawork and the teal-heavy color correction, which is reminiscent of A Good Day to Die Hard. The color scheme improves after the high school scenes, and I believe that this was done intentionally to contrast the depressing and cruel environment of high school to their post-high school experiences. The handheld camera, however, carries throughout, showing that life for “freaks” can be just as uncomfortable outside of school.
Some Freaks is the equivalent of a John Hughes teen movie as told by the makers of Degrassi, but not in a bad way. First time writer/director Ian MacAllister McDonald does a fantastic job telling the story of a rather heartbreaking romance, and gets good performances from all the actors involved. The film is exceptionally hard to watch in places, but its complex characters and raw approach make for an emotional experience. It may not be a pretty film to look at, but if you dig deep enough, Some Freaks might just enlighten you.