From Pariah to Beach Rats, the queer coming-of-age drama has reached maturity over the past decade. Currently screening at Frameline and arriving on Hulu on June 24th, Brettan Hannam’s film Wildhood similarly satisfies the young and the young-at-heart’s cravings for teen angst, rebellion, and soul-searching. But it does so in an underexplored setting: the Miꞌkmaꞌki territory on Canada’s eastern coast.
The characters bring their own brand of uniqueness, too. Lincoln (Phillip Lewitski), a teen living in a mobile home who spends his days harvesting scrap copper from abandoned buildings and bleaching his dark hair blonde. Upon learning that his father lied to him about the death of his mother, a Mi’kmaw woman, “Link” runs away from home with his squirrely younger half-brother to find her. On the road, the two hop a ride with Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), a Mi’kmaw teen in a punk vest who is estranged from his own family. The three misfits soon form a chosen family, one underpinned by the First Nations heritage that Link doesn’t quite understand, but humbly takes on, bit, by bit, as his own: matrilineally, linguistically, and sexually.
Wildhood’s casting of actors of native heritage should certainly be lauded, and so should their talents. Lewitski and Odjick (who received a Canadian Screen Award for this performance) both mesmerize as spirited and at-times knuckle-headed kids who can disarm with a glower of dejection or mischievous grin. Lewitski conjures a hardened vulnerability relatively unseen since the days of River Phoenix, while Odjick effortlessly shifts from masculine to feminine as Ezra Miller did in his better days.
As a result, Link’s broader journey to find his mother is much less interesting than his time on the road alongside Pasmay. Context and urgency fall away when Link asks his new friend to teach him the Mi’kmaw term for “thank you,” or when he catches Pasmay practicing a tribal dance and — intuitively, with little hesitation — joins him. Theirs is a connection that transcends the white man’s language and lacking categories, even as Pasmay goes down on Link in a tree-shrouded fall. It is also a connection that Hannam has devoted the most thought and care towards, as evidenced by affectionate, beautifully-wrought montages of the quotidian moments en route to the biographical answers Link wants.
As a consequence of this quiet emotional grandeur, Wildhood’s supporting characters often seem unnecessary and a little too cookie-cutter. Though diverse and occasionally taking the form of a mouthy trans cashier and a testy drag queen, their quips serve little purpose than to, somewhat clunkily, underscore the changes afoot for Link. He is no longer seen or seeing himself as a working poor white boy among poor white men, but something more whole and unnameable; something that the family he seeks — chosen and inherited — will lovingly accommodate.♦