Friday, June 10, 2022


In our world, there is already plenty of pressure on geeky middle school kids trying to ask someone out. In this alternate 1990s, Wyrm Whitner could be held back if he doesn’t get to first base fast. His electronic monitoring collar will know whether he lands that first kiss or not. Of course, his weird family drama is hardly helpful in screenwriter-director Christopher Winterbauer’s eccentric coming-of-age fantasy, Wyrm, which releases today on VOD and in theaters.

Whitner’s brother Dylan was the jock-hero of his high school, but he wasn’t such a great brother, or even much of a person. Nevertheless, Wyrm doggedly records audio tributes for Dylan’s one-year memorial, perhaps as an excuse for the embarrassing collar obviously still affixed around his neck. Unfortunately, his older sister Myrcella is not helping, even though she hangs out with Izzy, the new girl across the street. Instead, she is more interested in earning “credit” with the Norwegian exchange student and writing poison pen letters to their classmates.

Poor Wyrm is pretty much on his own, because neither of his parents are much of a presence in their lives anymore. Instead, their slacker Uncle Chet and his immigrant girlfriend Flor handle most of the parental duties. Maybe they aren’t perfect, but at least they are trying.

works surprisingly well because Winterbauer maintains the logic of the “No Child Left Alone” system, while not boring us with the deep dive details. Admittedly, the obsession with preteens’ sexual development feels a little creepy, but the Last-American-Virgin-style drama is weirdly compelling. Perhaps inadvertently, it also maybe argues how mandates can be counter-productive. (It is also worth noting the actual “No Child Left Behind” program was not designed to put pressure on kids. It was intended to measure the effectiveness of their teachers, who started stressing their kids out to perform well, just to cover their butts, so riffing on its name in this context really isn’t fair.)

Regardless, Theo Taplitz and Azure Brandi have some terrific scenes together as Wyrm and Myrcella Whitner. Likewise, Thomas Dewey and Natalia Abelleyra bring a lot of humanizing compassion to the film as Uncle Chet and Flor. They also provide examples of sympathetic grown-ups.

From time to time,
Wyrm slyly references the early days of the internet. Frankly, being a high school kid during “No Child Left Alone” looks difficult, but maybe preferable to coming of age under the influence of social media. It is not as funny as Dan Beers’ Premature, but Winterbauer does a nice job building horny teen humor from a fantastical premise. Recommended for fans offbeat high school comedies, Wyrms opens today (6/10) in Brooklyn, at the Kent Theater.