Erik Peter Carlson’s The Toy Soldiers is a pitch-black spin on American Graffiti, set in a brightly colored place during what’s remembered as a brightly colored decade.
The movie tells five interwoven, individually titled stories about a group of 1980s teenagers and some of their parents, all experiencing varying degrees of interpersonal emotional trauma on the night their favorite roller rink is shutting down for good.
Though it comments on how movies about teenagers seldom convey how much being that age sucks — the character of Angel (Najarra Townsend) states as much — the picture still plays by certain rules of commercial filmmaking: While a major theme is that teenage boys are often cruel and asshole-ish (true enough), the conceit that the quite fetching Layla (Jeanette May Steiner) is considered ugly enough to be called a “dog” just doesn’t scan.
Nor is the two-and-a-half-hour running time entirely justified; for as compelling as an individual thread or scene might be, the picture as a whole lacks forward momentum, as is often the case with films with asynchronous timelines. That said, since it actually strives to be about something and speak to emotional truths, The Toy Soldiers still has more business being 144 minutes than, say, Pulp Fiction had being 154.