The Wise Kids
The tight trio of Baptist teenagers at the center of Stephen Cone's empathic South Carolina–set second feature might fill its days with youth ministry and rehearsals for the church's Passion play, but doubts and fissures exist. Brea (Molly Kunz), the preacher's daughter, can't quell her persistent agnostic thoughts. Sort-of-out Tim (Tyler Ross) must disarm those churchgoers who find his gayness an abomination, including Bible absolutist Laura (Allison Torem), feeling increasingly insecure about her place in this holy trinity. Spanning nine months—from the arrival of college-acceptance letters in April to winter break in December—The Wise Kids suffers from a theater workshop-y tendency to rest too long on pauses and silences to convey dramatic heft. But the blunder is ultimately overshadowed by Cone's excellent young actors, particularly Torem, burrowing deeply into her character's zealotry and anguish about being left behind. And there are several moments in The Wise Kids that impressively upend cliché, especially among the flawed adults in the high school seniors' lives, such as Austin (Cone), a married church official who can't pray his own gay away. Although Austin's unmanageable feelings might lead him to make one spectacularly bad decision early on, a late-act confession (and his choice of confessor) exemplify Cone's genuine compassion.
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