Those of us old enough to remember The Wonder Years (cough) will recognize the structure and style of That’s What I Am, a winsome reminiscence of early-1960s suburban boyhood, in which lessons of tolerance share time with the first stirrings in a young man’s pants. Just entering high school, Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison) has a favorite teacher (Ed Harris), a favorite girl (Mia Rose Frampton), and a big red target (Alexander Walters) onto which he and the entire student body can project their anxieties. “Big G,” as the latter is called, is a ginger Frankenstein with huge prosthetic ears; even Andy, a sensitive aspiring writer, has assimilated the poor treatment G receives as normal. Director and writer Michael Pavone establishes an unhurried pace, setting up a series of thematic T-balls (don’t be a bully; live and let live) and then mildly knocking them into the infield. Greg Kinnear provides the narration as modern-day Andy, his dulcet, small-town radio voice a good fit for a story of bittersweet nostalgia. The writing hits the weeds on occasion, but Pavone evokes with feeling adolescence as a series of outlandish physical punishments and sweetly remembered firsts.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011