SXSW FILM 2013
By Don Simpson | March 20, 2013
Director: Emily Hagins
Writer: Emily Hagins
Starring: Tony Vespe, Katie Folger, Devin Bonnée, AJ Bowen, Caleb Barwick, Janet Travis, Byron Brown, Seth Lee, Chris Doubek
Tony (Tony Vespe) likes Halloween. Like a lot. Like maybe too much for a high school senior. Tony obsesses over his costume all year long in preparation for the Halloween dance and trick or treating. Yep, that’s right, Tony still goes trick or treating. While he does not see anything wrong with that, his best friends do. Elle (Katie Folger) and Craig (Devin Bonnée) have presumably matured at a much faster rate than Tony. As strange as it is for them to see Tony acting so immaturely, it is equally disorienting for Tony to have his friends change right in front of his eyes. It is pretty sad that at this juncture in his life, Tony actually seems to have more in common with the kid he babysits — Mikey (Caleb Barwick) — than anyone his own age. Nonetheless, Tony has no intentions of changing.
Unfortunately, everyone — including Tony’s single mom (Janet Travis) and loafer uncle (AJ Bowen) — just wants Tony to grow up. But, why? Are they really that much happier and/or better off than Tony? Not really. In fact, it is quite the opposite. While all of his peers are trying much too hard to be hip and cool, Tony continues to just be himself. Sure, he may get teased and people may throw stuff at him — heck, some cloaked bullies may even kick the crap out of him — but he is totally comfortable in his own skin. How many high school seniors can say that?
Tony’s one weakness is girls. We can only assume that Tony has never had a date, let alone a kiss; dating is just not something that comes natural to him. So, how does a teenage boy who still gets giddy about Halloween find a girlfriend? Good question.
Grow Up, Tony Phillips is a remarkably mature and accomplished film for a 20-year-old director, but then again this is already Emily Hagins’ fourth feature. As much as I love her last film, My Sucky Teen Romance (2011), Grow Up, Tony Phillips has ironed out any of the rough edges that can be found in Hagins’ earlier work. Hagins has impressed me to an exponential degree with every film that she has made. Grow Up, Tony Phillips reveals that Hagins is already a seasoned filmmaker who is only one mere step away from becoming the next John Hughes. There, I said it! Let’s just hope that Hagins does not make me regret that statement any time soon.
For me, Hagins’ youthfulness and gender give her a very unique perspective on coming of age comedies. Whereas directors like Hughes are reflecting upon their past, Hagins is writing about her near-present. The immediateness of her perspective is very exciting to me, if for no other reason than its unfiltered authenticity. There are very few directors who can reflect upon high school as honestly as Hagins, and especially not as skillfully as a film like Grow Up, Tony Phillips. Because, other than Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother), how many filmmakers have created such profound and accomplished films at 20-years of age? (Crickets chirping.)
She has progressed so far, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Grow Up, Tony Phillips will be Hagins’ gateway into Hollywood. (I bet my 2013 Halloween costume on that.) Give this 20-year-old a significant budget and a cast of marquee stars and let’s just sit back and watch the magic happen.