(director: Jeremiah Zagar; screenwriters: based on the novel by Justin Torres/Daniel Kitrosser; cinematographer: Zak Mulligan; editors: Keiko Deguchi, Brian A. Kates; music: Nick Zammuto; cast: Evan Rosado (Jonah), Sheila Vand (Ma), Raul Castillo (Paps), Josiah Gabriel (Joel), Isiaah Kristian (Manny); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeremy Yaches, Christina D. King, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey; The Orchard; 2018)

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“A heartbreaking lyrical coming-of-age drama.”

Documentary filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar (“In A Dream”/”Captivated”) directs his debut drama. It’s a heartbreaking lyrical coming-of-age film based on the semiautobiographical novel by Justin Torres and written by Daniel Kitrosser, but it lacks plot and structure and nothing much happens that isn’t arty. It stars pre-teen boys who are non-actors, who only give so-so performances. It tells about three biracial kids — brothers Manny (Isiaah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel ), and Jonah (Evan Rosado) —  growing up wild in the 1980s in rural upstate New York, in a struggling financially strapped family. Their feckless, volatile and absentee Puerto Rican father (Raul Castillo) is unpredictable even when playful, while their white mom (Sheila Vand) is depressed but protective of the sensitive youngest son Jonah.

The story focuses on Jonah, the youngest 9-year-old son with an ambiguous sexual identity, who is not like his older brothers–shown in the epilogue as adult clones of their father.

The indie reminds one of the The Florida Project, but is not as good. It was a favorite at the recent Sundance Festival.

We the Animals

REVIEWED ON 6/16/2019       GRADE: B-