A modern-day melodrama about masculinity set in Miami is promising on paper (and sounds a lot like Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight), but Trey Edward Shults’s bombastic third feature crashes and recedes, leaving few revelations in its wake.
Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a middle-class jock with a cheerleader girlfriend, Alexis (Alexa Demie), and a covetable spot on his high-school wrestling team. But there are cracks in his American dream. An unplanned pregnancy, a critical shoulder injury and a disciplinarian father (Sterling K Brown) have him snorting oxycodone and gorging on cheeseburgers through tears in the bath.
Cameras that spin 360 degrees around the film’s teenage characters foreshadow the chaos to come; faces cast in mean neon reds and blues caution the audience with a similar lack of subtlety. Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross weave their way around the thuddingly literal soundtrack choices, which include Tyler, the Creator’s IFHY (“I Fucking Hate You”) and Radiohead’s True Love Waits. A drunken rampage set to Kanye West’s satirical I Am a God is unwitting parody; even the believable Harrison Jr can’t transcend this moment.
Tyler’s story climaxes halfway through the film with an accidental crime that has irreversible consequences. The film then follows his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and her blossoming summer romance with Luke (Lucas Hedges). The sweetness is a respite after the first act’s high-octane tension; there’s wild swimming and a road trip to reconcile Luke with his abusive, dying father. Shults draws sweeping parallels between the young men and how each must repress his vulnerabilities, but if the takeaway is that the repercussions are worse for black men, the point is made too simplistically.