What separates a kid quietly enduring the ordinary hell of adolescence from the one who picks up a gun?
Considering the frequency of school shootings in America, it’s sort of astounding that there haven’t been more movies made about them. Or maybe not, when the quotidian details of these daily tragedies — a bullied or disaffected perpetrator (somehow, nearly always a boy); a body count; “thoughts and prayers” — have become so numbingly familiar that the individual stories rarely last beyond a single news cycle.
And Then I Go is an affecting if uneven attempt to humanize the headlines via Edwin (Arman Darbo), a sensitive, fine-featured tween who falls on the small side for his age, which is apparently enough to single him out as a hopeless social outcast in junior high.
His parents each try to understand in their own way: Tim (Justin Long), a college professor, is the tough-love guy; Janice (Melanie Lynksey) is the sympathizer and peacemaker. But both are confounded by their son’s inscrutable moods and the bruises he seems to bring home weekly. They also aren’t crazy about his only friend, Flake (Sawyer Barth), another eighth-grade untouchable who’s bigger and meaner and more ready to fight.
In quiet, often dream-like interludes that frequently burst open into scenes of brutal verbal or physical violence, director Vincent Grashaw explores what it’s like to be Edwin, so battered by anxiety and anger and a crushing sense of unfairness that he hardly sleeps at night.
Darbo captures all those those emotions in a way that never seems tried-on or teen-actory, despite his anomalously pretty face, and indie stalwarts Long and Lynskey treat their tricky roles with sensitivity without ever playing for undue sympathy. (Tony Hale also shows up onscreen for the second time this year as a school administrator, though his part is considerably less breezy than it was in Love, Simon).
Grashaw stumbles a little with the amateur acting in smaller roles, and in his insistence on making nearly every adult onscreen deliver some line swollen with fateful double meaning. (“Did you ever think about what it would be like to have your name in the paper?” an art teacher asks Edwin eagerly, when one of his projects wins a regional prize. Well yes, lady, he has.)
And when Flake inquires early on whether his friend would like to see his dad’s gun collection, it doesn’t take Chekov or a mantle to know where all this is headed — even if he’s quick to distance himself from the Columbine guys, dismissing them as “f— ups.” What Grashaw does remarkably well, in the movie’s harrowing final minutes, is put us entirely inside Edwin’s head; not as a sociopath or a killer, just a boy in a world of pain. B+