“Youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness”
Driven by the passions of youth and an uncanny disposition for independence, this new Andrew Haigh installment fails to improve on his former works. A script lacking in fluid narrative and depth of message, Lean on Pete largely fails where more competent films like The Road and Into The Wild succeeded.
Leon on Pete tells the story of a sweet teenage boy (Charlie Plummer) with an unwielding passion for self-sufficiency who falls in premature attachment to an aging horse driven to its limits by the wiles of his owners. Sensing the end for his pet, and facing the aftermath of a family tragedy, Plummer turns to theft, violence, and a life on the road seeking new shelter—in the end finding himself the responsible party for the death of the animal and a criminal history with only his good intentions to console him. The film ends in predictable posture, Plummer finding himself where he was always meant to belong—at home.
While Haigh’s Weekend [C+] is gratuitous and willfully unapologetic of the gay lifestyle, at least his first major film taps into a Rohmer-esque gay community ethos—profoundly relevant to understanding the cultural dynamics that come with the struggle between “coming out” and “covering up.” The latter, described well by Erving Goffman, as a process whereby a person who may otherwise be “ready to admit possession of a stigma . . . may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large.”
His second feature, 45 Years [B-], is a brooding and profound message of former obsession and former loss with its impacts on future life-sharing. With powerhouse acting performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, Haigh was poised to make something truly great in this his newest feature; and, he failed to deliver.
Instead, matching a slow, developing narrative with inept transitional scene intended to attract the compassion of the audience—doing little else than wasting his developing storyline with ineffectiveness.
In each of his former films, Haigh has been able to deliver one stand-out scene (i.e. a profound momentum shift) that transitions well into the final moments of the movie. In 45 Years, it was the moment when Rampling’s character realizes the reality of her marriage in an upstairs attic—moving through slides of her husbands former life and realizing just how entangled her own existence has become in the waves of another’s. In Weekend, it was the depth of conversation driven by the inducement of drugs and shared experiences—richly engaging in a conversation between a historical group of gays who sought to reclaim their identities versus those who remained content to live a life in shadows.
But, in Lean on Pete, despite the effort from Haigh, no such scene carried forward the necessary competence of transition that would garner the respect of this form installations. No break-out moments was available to dig richly into the psychological drive of the characters. No back story to layer into the decision-making of a child seeking home and finding a counterpart in an aging quarter-horse. No serious attempt to interweave a music dimension to the film or a narrative deserving of a setting so remote from the city’s noise pollution. Not even a deeper dive into the significance of labor that helps mend the character of children made fragile by today’s pop-culture: “[t]here is almost nothing more important we can do for our young than convince them that production is more satisfying than consumption.” (Ben Sasse).
These childish delights have childish ends and blunt ploys do little than take away what could have otherwise been a profound lesson on history, man, and nature.