Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sundance ’13: Shopping

Willie is a quiet kind of kid.  The patriarch of a roving band of thieves can envision useful roles for him.  The allure of their outlaw lifestyle will test his bond with his younger brother in Mark Albiston & Louis Sutherland’s Shopping, which screens during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

With a wave of race riots still fresh in New Zealand's public memory, half-Samoan Willie’s domineering Anglo father insists he keep his head down and nose to the grindstone.  Working part-time in the local department store, the young man confronts Bennie, a flagrant shoplifter, who somehow still slips away like the old pro he clearly is.  Later outside, he offers Willie a bit of consideration the honest lad duly refuses.  Not so the next time.  After a few parties and few capers, Willie is definitely considering throwing in his lot with the “shoppers.”  Yes, Bennie also has a daughter who makes a strong impression on Willie.  Unfortunately, showing interest in her can be a dicey proposition.

In addition to the Oliver Twisty story, Albiston & Sutherland also depict the unusual close relationship between Willie and his sibling.  Instead of resenting all the time he must spend with the physically and socially awkward Solomon, Willie is a genuinely protective and indulgent older brother, to an extent not often seen on film.

For a young actor, Kevin Paulo is a surprisingly effective slow burner.  As Willie, he dramatically conveys how tightly wound and conflicted the pre-teen is.  Likewise, Jacek Koman is both roguishly charming and downright menacing as Bennie.  Unfortunately, Willie’s erratic father and passive mother are essentially stock figures.

Basically, Shopping is three parts coming-of-age story and one part crime drama.  Albiston & Sutherland handle the material with great sensitivity, but a bit more humor in the mix would have helped counter-balance the heavy, naturalistic atmosphere.  Recommended for those who appreciate sibling stories with a thin layer of social commentary, Shopping screens again in Park City today (1/19), Thursday (1/24), and Friday (1/25), as well as in Salt Lake on Sunday (1/20) as part of this year’s Sundance.