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If Cicadas had been made before 1975, it would have snuck up on and charmed the film viewers of the time, becoming the sleeper of the year. Back then Hollywood might have even made this film. Jaws had not yet established the high-concept blockbuster formula, and Star Wars had not yet made Hollywood lustful for the mega-profit movie that has increasingly shut "small films" out of the theatrical market.
Cicadas has no "high concept", no stars, no instantly marketable hook. What is does have is deft and insightful writing, directing and editing by filmmaker Kat Candler, remarkable performances by the young cast (Lindsay Broockman, Brandon Howe, Paul Conrad, and Bryan Chafin particularly stand out), and a big, but unsentimental heart. It's a coming-of-age story focusing on young, intelligent, frustrated, misfit kids becoming adults, using the cicada's life cycle as a gentle metaphor for the youngsters' own transformation.
Candler has written subtle, honest, understated dialog that lets 16 year olds sound and act like 16 year olds and avoids stilted speeches and contrivances. They don't always know what to say or how to be with each other or why they feel the way they do. They are people, not types. They live their lives in fits and spurts, rather than follow a plot line like trains on a track.
I've purposely not focused on the plot, because it might sound agonizing familiar. Nerdy smart girl is left to care for her older and younger brother as parents travel frequently on business. Friendless, she meets the new boy in high school, a smoldering, mysterious boy who is there as a consequence of his trouble at another school. He is closed off and tough, fatherless, his mother lost in the bottle since the tragic loss of her first born son. The boy is also a remarkably sensitive poet. They are drawn to and repelled from each other throughout the twists of the tale, which weaves in the subplots of the nerdy, boy-scout, entomologist little brother and the iconoclastic, artistic older brother, both outcasts as well trying to find their place in the world.
It could have been cliche, but manages to be a rich and engrossing tale, full of little, individual rings of truth rather than trying to deliver one big one at the end. And in doing so, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Cicadas in not a perfect film, its limited budget occasionally hamstringing it for tiny moments, but it is a beautiful one, minor warts and all.
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