dir. Nathan Adloff
written by: Nathan Adloff, Justin D.M. Palmer
starring: Tim Boardman, Molly Shannon, Missi Pyle, Paul Reiser
2.5 out of 4 stars
The first weekend of SIFF was full of multiple firsts for me. It held my first festival screenings and my first film Q&A, this one with James Schamus for Indignation. I also experienced the very different vibe between film festival attendance and standard movie attendance. There is an electricity behind film festival screenings when around so many other film loving individuals. What was most interesting was attending the premiere for the sports drama Miles. This comedy/drama from writer-director Nathan Adloff had only been screened to one previous audience the night before in the same theater. A palpable energy and fear resonated off the filmmakers for this film with barely any information surrounding it.
Based on a true semi-autobiographical experience, the story follows Miles (Tim Boardman), a gay senior in high school very ready to leave his small Illinois town for college in Chicago. Following his father’s sudden death, his mother (Molly Shannon) discovers his father squandered Miles’ college fund on a sports car for his mistress. Refusing to spend a single day longer in the town he resents, Miles joins the girl’s volleyball team at his school when he discovers a scholarship opportunity that would otherwise be impossible with the lack of a male team available to join. He and his mother discover life after the departure of his overbearing father can still hold many surprises.
This personal story for the writer-director Adloff missed the point on genuine emotion among the cast. The dialogue leaned toward unrealistic between characters, and the direction was hit or miss depending on the story being told. Tim Boardman as Miles is too melodramatic during his emotional scenes, but despite the coy smile plastered on his face, his communications on gay chat rooms are surprisingly sweet. Molly Shannon’s role as the mother adds another parent of a gay man role for the SNL alum. Where her performance is fine, expectedly chipper and positive and fierce when needed, the role is unappealing. The mother is so quick to subvert her son’s desires to hit into the community, and she sadly is given little redemption until late in the game. The most striking role is Missi Pyle as the volleyball coach. Never relenting on her stance that Miles should be permitted to play on the girl’s team despite the almost ubiquitous cisgender conforming PTA mob on her tail. Pyle snaps and retorts with genuine passion and believable zeal for her stance.
The exceptional achievement for this movie is the framing of Miles’ sexual orientation. It is made clear early on that Miles is a gay man already out to his parents. When asked by his still closeted chat buddy in Chicago, he mentions that his father knows but doesn’t care, “about anything”. To have a gay character in a coming of age story that is not also a coming out story is almost unheard of. Even in the strongest recent entries of LGBT coming of age stories, such as Pariah, the drama is contained in parental conflicts with their queer offspring. Separating the drama from the sexual orientation was an inspired variation that set apart his movie for plot quality.
Flawed and somewhat messy, this melodrama was still a fun, sexually open experience. This was not the inspirational sports story or overwrought coming out story I expected, but rather a differently framed coming out story with genuine humor and a gay male character with meaning beyond his orientation. American cinema is still finding its course for telling stories from non-white, non-hetero, non-cisgendered mechanisms, so this is a pleasant example of the direction non-average characters can take.