Stephen Cone’s The Wise Kids is labeled as a dynamic Southern coming-of-age drama, yet it plays out like an awkward Christian special mistakenly aired on ABC Family. While Cone is able to embody the spirit of a Southern Christian denomination that struggles with the same problems everyone else faces, yet they seem quantified because of their religious beliefs, it is the methods Cone chooses to depict such events that makes The Wise Kids forgettable at best.
What happens when you take three teenagers who are busy with their Youth Ministry in Charleston, South Carolina and on the verge of graduating high school then throw homosexuality into the mix? Chaos. Or rather, just tense moments that tend to fall flat.
There is Tim, an aspiring film director who slowly comes out to those around him throughout the film, and his best friends Brea and Laura who are devout Christians. The more Tim struggles with his sexuality, the more Laura begins to doubt her faith and Brea begins to resent the other two because of their choices. Time passes and we see how everyone’s journey progresses, even that of a married church employee who makes an awkward pass at Tim during his birthday party. Tense moments are what drives this film and at the end of the day make up the heart of it.
The character of Laura played by Allison Torem embodies that one over-the-top Christian that we all have undoubtedly encountered at some point or another, and she does so in a way that makes the viewer both uncomfortable and yet able to recognize a job well done all at the same time.
Cone presents us with a cast of people who attempt to put on a display that they are all close and have lived in this tight knit community for some time, but with the exception of Tim and Laura’s relationship, it is hard to see any chemistry between the cast.
While cleverly titled and tied in with the film’s end, Cone brings to life this quirky Southern drama that tugs on the heartstrings of any Christian struggling with their sexuality. Admittedly at times it poses the right messages in reference to making our own choices, the film tends to sweep some grander issues under the rug. Without giving too much away, it is blatantly obvious early on that there is a married man who it becomes clear is gay. This story goes unresolved and Cone seems to believe it can all be summed up with a high angle shot of him looking half-heartedly up at the Christmas sky.
The Wise Kids undoubtedly will reach a small audience and appeal to an even smaller demographic. If it happens to be your cup of tea, then by all means take a look at Cone’s work, but do not expect it to change your life or points of view.
It is available now on DVD.