Poor Mama’s Boy

30 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

As “Poor Mama’s Boy” opens, we see a 17-year-old boy, Wesley (Joe Hiatt), fights back against his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Rather than appreciate the brave gesture, his mother (Jennifer Pierce Mathus) snaps back at her son before leaving him to be with the jerk. Wesley hitchhikes to a rural-Arkansas small town (after caring for himself alone for a long period of time) where his kind aunt and uncle (Mary Faulkner and Dustin Prince) take him in. He gets a job at a local grocery store, where he meets Adelia (Madi Yates) with whom he makes friends. Things seem fine, until Adelia turns missing and townspeople have their suspicious eyes on Wesley…

That’s the premise for a tense, effective, even tender indie film written, directed, co-produced, shot, and edited by Dalton Coffey, who clearly had a vision and followed through in such a way that everything else he needed to make it happen was a small but reliable crew and a talented assortment of actors to bring it to life.

Joe Hiatt’s role of Wesley is understated but still solid. He’s a kid who doesn’t want trouble but simply a place to call “home” with people to call “family.” (Shades of Charlie Plummer in “Lean on Pete” to be found here.) I’d say he’s better when he’s silent and absorbing emotions emitted around him, but when he speaks, it’s as if he’s being careful about his words because he’s in a place he doesn’t want to feel he doesn’t belong.

Lynnsee Provence, who appeared in some Arkansas-made features (“Shotgun Stories,” “War Eagle, Arkansas”) and several shorts reviewed by me (“Cotton County Boys,” “Still Life,” “The Man in the Moon”), turns in his best performance as Grady, Wesley’s older brother who left as soon as he found the chance. Now, Wesley wants to reconnect and start a real family bond, but Grady isn’t particularly interested. It’s when things start to go from bad to worse (such as Wesley getting SHOT IN THE ARM by an unknown local) that Grady expresses concern for his younger brother and decides to do what he can to help. This leads to a conflict in the final act in which the deeper meaning of “family” is surfaced, for better or worse.

Also good in the film are Dustin Prince as Wesley’s uncle who sticks up for his nephew when everyone else suspects him of murdering Adelia (if she’s dead), Tom Kagy as Adelia’s surly father who even admits he looks for someone to blame during all of this (I kinda wish we had more of this character), and Kristy Barrington, hilarious as Grady’s drug-addled wife.

The small-town setting is beautifully realized here—you not only feel like you’re there dealing with the situation Wesley found himself into, but you see both the peaceful relaxation/natural beauty of the location and the disturbing layers underneath that make it scary to go through sometime…especially when many of the locals don’t particularly trust you and even want to harm you. If I go to the stream or the bridge that the characters frequent, I’d love it until someone else happened upon it too. (Take it from someone who lived in rural Northeast Arkansas—sometimes, these places can be beautiful; other times, scary.)

By the end of the film, I wanted this “poor mama’s boy” to find happiness in a good place with good people. And when it’s over, there’s an ambiguity that leans more towards hope. Because, he deserves it.

“Poor Mama’s Boy” is available on-demand on Amazon Prime and iTunes, and I recommend you check it out.

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