Dealing with toxic family members is undoubtedly messy. Although they may be connected by blood, if they’re finding ways to crush one’s happiness, the best way to deal with them is to sometimes step away. For Link (Philip Lewitski) and his young half-brother Trevor (Avery Winters-Anthony), the protagonists of the latest coming-of-age story Wildhood, they’re left with the option to run away from their abusive father even if they have little idea of where the final destination on their trip will be.
At that point, Wildhood becomes a completely different movie. After it opens on a discomforting note as it showcases scenes of physical neglect, once Link and Trevor escape, Wildhood gradually becomes a jauntier tale about self-enlightenment and finding one’s identity. Besides figuring out his sexual orientation, Link slowly goes on a journey towards being in touch with his Mi’kmaw roots as he pursues his longlost Indigenous mother. Helping Link on his holistic journey is Pasmay (Josh Odjick), a pow wow dancer who accompanies both him and Trevor on their road trip and becomes an object of Link’s affection.
Due to the invisible wall he puts up between himself and everyone around him, Link struggles to verbally articulate his feelings for Pasmay. As his burgeoning feelings shine through in piercing gazes, Link still experiences indecision over how to navigate his newfound emotions. Lead actor Philip Lewitski does an exemplary job at mapping out Link’s simultaneous confusion and romantic yearning while Joshua Odjick is a force of steady resolve as Pasmay. Pasmay exudes a tender aura used to break down Link’s invisible wall that contradicts his outward masculine image. One pivotal scene where he does so involves Pasmay inviting Link to dance along with him so he can engage in spiritual relaxation.
Meanwhile, Michael Greyeyes leaves an indelible mark as Pasmay’s cool uncle Smokey whom all three encounter on their trip. Within the constraints of his short screen time, Greyeyes gives off waves of endearment that are in sync with the film’s largely buoyant mood.
Cinematographer Guy Godfree similarly captures the lively tone as he lenses moments like ones where the three protagonists joyously jam to music on their drive as they’re bathed in light. Godfree’s use of gleaming light is likewise effective during a waterfall love scene between Link and Pasmay. The sequence plays out at night time with shimmers of light shining on the two of them, reflecting how they may be in the dark with most of the world in their relationship, yet the spark they have shines brightly and light will still follow them wherever they may roam. No matter how big or small that light may be, there is light.
After having to leave their homes to build a better life, both Link and Pasmay are still tasked with navigating a narrow-minded world. But they realize they don’t have to do so alone. Their relationship and the aforementioned message involving finding light in the darkness make Wildhood a heart-rending gem from writer/director Bretten Hannam. By acting as a story about cultural as well as sexual identity, Wildhood proves not only how important the coming-of-age narrative is within the queer cinema realm, but that there are always new avenues to take the narrative in.
Wildhood is currently in select theaters from Wolfe Releasing and will be streaming on Hulu this Friday, June 24.