Starring: Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Will Ropp, Miles Fitch, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, and Shailene Woodley.
Directed By: Megan Park
Where I Watched It: HBO MAX
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: Vada (Ortega) is your average high schooler, with a normal life, whose life is forever changed when a fellow classmate walks into her school with a gun and opens fire. While the movie spends most of the time not during this incident, the given plot description is vague enough that you might think its about teen suicide or something. So, you’ve been warned about the actual content now.
What Works: The weird thing is, this is becoming a sub genre of film, movies about school shootings. Not only have I seen such a long list that I could rank them, but I can think of titles dating all the way back at least twenty years. The days when we could make a movie like Toy Soldiers are over, and now when guns are in school, it always leads to tragedy on a grand scale.
The Fallout focuses primarily on one student and her reaction to surviving the shooting, dealing with it in her own way, or not dealing with it at all. For the most part, the film dodges the out right brutality of the shooting, choosing to have Vada in hiding, and experiencing everything with that “please God don’t come in here”, as she and a few others hear shot after shot. It could be a tough watch for some, even though it doesn’t directly feature the actual act of shooting.
Jenna Ortega does a decent job with a complex role. Really, the four main teenagers, each representing a different side of the story, all are good at what they do. This film is not perfect, and I’ll get to it in a moment. But it can also be highly effective when it wants to be, in occasional moments. Usually when the film chooses to do little instead of a lot. Often, these characters work best in sitting in the silence of the moment, rather than having to act like high school teenagers.
I think all movies like this are important, and I noticed at the end of the film that at the very end of the credits, the film is dedicated to all students who lost the lives in a mass shooting just for attending school. There are some really important things brought up within this film, and its worth a watch. It remains a part of a conversation we should be having, and this film is designed far more to provoke conversation than entertain.
What Doesn’t Work: I hate to come out negative on this film, but with so many terrific films in this field already, including the recently released Mass, as well as films like Afterschool, Beautiful Boy (not the Steve Carell one), and even a highly effective episode of 13 Reasons Why, filmmakers have been pondering these questions since Michael Moore bowled for Columbine. So at some point, quality has to matter. The story and the characters have to make sense.
That being said, Mia should be in child protective services. For the entire duration of the film, her parents can’t be bothered to come home to check on their daughter that just survived a mass shooting? There’s literally NO ONE in her family around… ever. She goes the entire film, which does span a decent length of time, with the audience supposed to accept that her parents are “out of town”. Worst parents ever. Involve CPS immediately.
And given her final, and honestly only attempt at real emotion or acting in the film, Amelia, Vada’s sister, is so annoyingly clueless that she grates on the audience. Her unyielding optimism would work on a younger child, someone that perhaps this whole event can’t really be explained to. Perhaps a kindergartner or 1st grader. But since a major plot point involves Amelia having her period, she’s got to be aware of what happened, and probably is middle school age, yet doesn’t express any understanding until the very end. It might have actually been better for her to never express understanding, because it just made all of her previous character choices stupid.
I know this film has its heart in the right place, and it asks plenty of the right questions. But it also lets so many other ones come out that are damaging to the structure and integrity of characters and their individual grief processes within the film. Choices are made by the kids that seem to really try to have each one represent one idea, almost like the emotions in Inside Out, and yet, the film doesn’t even really follow through on those promises.
Some of this film is truly great. Some of the actin is spectacular. But some of it is not.
The Blind Perspective: A very nice calm voice narrates our audio description for us. Given the subject matter, I feel like what she says, and how she delivers it is perfect for the film. It’s a light understanding tone, something that won’t feel too childlike or aggressive.
Final Thoughts: I really, really want to just say The Fallout is a great film that everyone should watch. Instead, it is a frustratingly imperfect film that remains important, and people should still absorb the parts that are good, and do work. Unfortunately, there will be some nonsense that detracts, and that’s a problem.
Final Grade: B-