Coming of age movies recently have been capitalizing on a specific kind of protagonist. In the broadest terms, this character is often too smart for his or her own good. They are a teen, a budding intellectual ripe with wisdom and knowledge that is cribbed from unlikely sources. They seem, at first, to be smarter even than the adults and other figures of authority that populate their world. Often that have strange hobbies, awkward relationships, and cannot adjust to the world around them, all because they just cannot comprehend the world around them when it does not jibe with their idea of what it should be.
At first, this character was a welcome breath of fresh air, a kind of ray of hope in a world otherwise populated by Disney Channel cutouts of clothing and popularity obsessed teenyboppers. Then, the character became a burden. In films like Juno we got characters whose wit and charm felt bottled, concentrated and fabricated to get a reaction, rather than as a means of defining and building a character.
It is a small miracle, then, that you managed to rescue this once noble character from the depths of cliche hell and make it the centerpiece of one of the best character-driven coming of age movies I have seen in quite some time.
The key to your success, I believe, is in the vulnerability and energy that actor Craig Roberts brings to the role of Oliver Tate. Not only does he create a character that manages to embrace the Wes Anderson-esque quirk without allowing the ticks and mannerisms to consume the soul of his performance, but he also makes every other oddball character in his life relate-able by meeting them on their level.
This is a character who sees his life as a film or a story, who creates in his mind the narrative arcs that must be achieved in order to reach his goals. He worries about his parents’ marriage, and as such has begun to chart the frequency of their sexual encounters. He wonders if a girl at school might be allowing bullying – some of it perpetrated by him – to effect her too much, so he writes her a pamphlet of ways to break the cycle (complete with local examples). In his tireless quest to better the lives of those around him, he creates a system of judgment and justification that has a weird universal logic to it. He is smart enough to know the problems that surround him and intelligent and resourceful enough to find the answers to these problems.
The problem is that he is not mature enough to realize that some things are out of his control, and simply meeting them head on is all that he is capable of doing.
Here is the greatest asset to your story and your character. Many times in films such as this, the character has a breakdown or a moment of violent collision of will that causes them to have to come to the realization that life is out of their control. Oliver, though, comes to this realization as a result of his intelligence and acumen. This character doesn’t have to break down and reevaluate his previous ideas and thoughts. He merely has to adapt them and realize that lack of control isn’t a sign of being incorrect.
In addition to this more mature, more faithfully character-based moral and narrative arc, your aesthetic aspects also set you above the crowd of quirky coming of age stories. In a lot of lesser films, the director uses quick edits, tableau compositions, and ironic title screens as a means of creating a feel of youthful, fastidious precociousness. These tricks, just like the traits of failed characters, fail because they feel like they are a piece if plot, a necessity of atmosphere building rather than an organic and necessary piece of the story at hand.
Since your story is told through the eyes and words of Oliver, it make sense that there are tableau, that the story is chopped into chapters, and that different film stocks and editing styles are used. Oliver sees his life through the lens of a movie, a narrative that makes sense and has moments of intense drama and purpose. We see his perceptions, hear his narration, and become a deeply seeded part of his experience as a result.
There is much to your story and narrative that I have not touched upon. I feel it would be a disservice to others who want to experience your subtle, comedic delights to give too much of your story away. Rather, I trust that those who will appreciate and understand you will seek you out. They will forgive your lackadaisical, loosely structured plot and see you for what you really are; one of the better examples of a maturation story to come out in recent memory.
With laughter and love,
Brian J. Roan