Lean on Pete
Starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Travis Fimmel, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn
In a rare schedule switch, after being influenced from TIFF piers, I swapped out the negatively reviewed Suburbicon to the smaller indie flick Lean on Pete. Charlie Plummer (The Dinner) was being praised on Twitter for his performance, and while it’s an impressive leading role debut for a newcomer, I didn’t find it within the same vein as Timothée Chalamet’s turn in Call Me By Your Name. That’s the problem with seeing so many films back to back to back for 8 days straight. Everything becomes a knock off of something else you just saw. Now while there are no regrets over Lean on Pete, it doesn’t have the pedigree of other films in the festival, and seems like an outside pick from distributor A24. It’s also a film that follows a journey that’s about as depressing as anything you will find playing here involving kids.
Abandoned by his mother at a young age, Charley Thompson (Plummer) lives with his blue-collar father in a shack of a house outside Portland Oregon. A high school athlete, intelligent and not afraid of a tough day’s work. The 15-year-old accidentally lands a job with aging horse owner Del (Buscemi) who offers decent wages and a chance for Charley to be around his favorite animal. He takes a liking to the race horse named Pete, who recently took first place, in what female jockey Bonnie (Sevigny) calls, ‘An end of the line’ race. When the positive reinforcement from loving but unqualified father (Fimmel) vanishes, Charley takes steals Pete and heads to Wyoming, where he hopes an aunt will take him in.
As coming of age stories go, I failed to find a real hook, and got disinterested when he starts breaking the law.
In the early parts of the film, the scenes between Charley and his father are some of the most well written and acted in the entire piece. There is a beautiful softness to their bond, two men at different ages but still adolescents. Lean on Pete is about the harsh realities of life, and for Charley, they come in a steady flow. In many ways this film, based on the novel, breaks a lot of stereotypes, both in the coming of age genre and in overall character development. It’s helmed from the director of 45 Years, and not a sequel to his Greek Pete.
There is a sustained sadness that saturates every scene, making this a difficult film to sit through. The realism within the characters and circumstance are often the only elements that keep Lean on Pete interesting. It’s unfair to call this a story about a young boy and his horse, because Pete doesn’t function as a character like other films featuring horses. Sevigny gets a handful of scenes in the middle of the film, but both she and Zahn are more like extended cameos. Buscemi and Fimmel leave more of a resonating impact, but this is entirely a vehicle for Plummer who appears in every scene. As coming of age stories go, I failed to find a real hook, and got disinterested when he starts breaking the law.
Despite a respectable teenage leading performance, Lean on Pete doesn’t have much clout.