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Tayarisha Poe/2018 Tribeca Film Festival

We the Animals (2018)

Based on Justin Torres’s eponymous novel, “We the Animals” recounts the coming-of-age of a Puerto Rican child amid his parents’ turbulent relationship and his own budding (homo)sexuality.

Despite that brothers Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel) and Jonah (Evan Rosado) apparently play well together and seem somewhat interchangeable, the film insists that Jonah is in fact not quite like his brothers. For one, he’s artistic and likes to draw. He’s also unusually clingy to his bickering parents (Sheila Vand and Raúl Castillo). The film inexplicably pays special attention to details of dad’s sexy machismo. Even though Jonah does not seem to have reached puberty, the film depicts him as consumed with adult desires. To have someone as young as Mr. Rosado grapple with this material feels a bit icky. Imagine if “Moonlight” had eschewed Ashton Sanders and allowed Alex R. Hibbert to carry the same role into adolescence.

There are many parallels with “Moonlight” to be drawn here. But as rendered by filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar, "We the Animals” feels a bit muddled. The animation based on Jonah’s drawings reads as whimsical à la “Ma vie en rose,” while Nick Zammuto’s generic indie score suggests something far moodier and weightier. There’s also little coherence to the events that help shape Jonah and lead to his emancipation. In the end, it isn’t clear whether it’s Jonah or his family that’s more misunderstood.


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