Friday, October 21, 2011

Dying to Grow-Up: Snowmen

When Billy Kirkfield and his friends find a dead body in a snowdrift, it is cool for the ten year-olds in a Tom Sawyer way. On the other hand, it is also kind of a downer when Master Kirkfield’s narration explains how it foreshadowed his own death. The coming-of-age story has a ticking clock in Robert Kirbyson’s Snowmen (trailer here), which opens today in California and Colorado (but not New York).

Young Kirkfield is a cancer surviving, or so his parents tell him. Recognizing the signs from his last go-round as well as his parents’ nervous behavior, Kirkfield unfortunately knows all is not right. Still, some things are looking up. Kirkfield befriends Howard Garvey, a recent Caribbean transplant to the frozen north, who seems to have some backbone. They also enjoy the attention brought by their discovery of the corpse.

Yet, Kirkfield is too aware he has limited time to make his mark. Fearing he will be forgotten like the old man in the snowdrift, Kirkfield tries to organize his school in an attempt to break the one-day snowman-making record. In the process, he might finally woo his not-so secret crush Gwen and stand-up to the school bully, Jason Bound. Of course, as a coming-of-age story, there will have to be a lot of pain and embarrassment first.

Evidently, the MPAA deemed Snowmen was not sufficiently violent or sexual for New York audiences, despite its favorable reception at the Tribeca Film Festival. Granted, it can be rather manipulative. Yet, it has a good heart and a refreshingly on-target message about the value of friendship and human connections, compared to the hollow bragging rights of records and the like. It is a moral delivered with memorable grace by veteran character actor Christopher Lloyd as the twinkly-eyed town cemetery caretaker.

While the young protagonist can be a bit trying, he never has the psycho eyes depicted on the film’s latest one-sheet. In fact, he develops some rather endearing and credibly realistic chemistry with Demi Peterson as Gwen. Conversely, the stuff with the thuggish Bound is pretty standard issue stuff.

While Snowmen might sound too dark for juvenile audiences, it probably is not dark enough to satisfy them. There are no Byronic vampires getting impaled on stakes here, but there are some scenes with ice-balls, which are really dangerous. A nice, safe film, Snowmen opens today (10/21) in the metro-Denver area at the AMC Highlands Ranch and in other cities across the country.