Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 24, 2013
Director: Daniel Patrick Carbone
Writer: Daniel Patrick Carbone
Starring: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O’Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies, Andrew M. Chamberlain, Clark Middleton, Ivan Tomic
It is amazing just how close to death (or severe injury) kids get on a daily basis. Two brothers — Eric (Nathan Varnson) and Tommy (Ryan Jones) — and their friend Ian (Ivan Tomic) use the densely forested landscapes surrounding their rural hometown as a giant playground. They explore long-abandoned structures, play with dead animals, swim in dingy lakes, aim [possibly loaded] guns at each other, stand eye-to-eye with a bear, and wrestle without any adult supervision. It may all seem a magical capturing of adolescence, but there is a menacing air (thanks to Robert Donne’s eerie score) that seems to be following the kids around.
The menace boils to fruition when Eric discovers a dead body, though we are given no hints as to which way the story will go next. There seems to be a murder-mystery lingering on the periphery of the narrative, but Eric and Tommy seem much too shocked to do any sleuthing. Instead, their smiling faces are dutifully hidden, as writer-director Daniel Patrick Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces evolves into an adolescent contemplation of death. It is surprising that even after the dead body is discovered, Eric and Tommy’s parents (Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies) make no attempt to reign their boys in; they don’t even notice how the kids’ environment is growing increasingly dangerous. Eric has become unwieldy and erratic, while his friend Tristan (Thomas Cruz) expresses thoughts of suicide. There may be such a thing as too much freedom for a young teenager after a traumatic encounter with death.
Reminiscent of David Gordon Green’s George Washington and Matthew Gordon’s The Dynamiter, Hide Your Smiling Faces relies heavily upon its mood and tone to drive the narrative. The sporadic dialogue is mostly inconsequential, though necessary in order to maintain the high level of realism. Even the characters are almost, dare I say, unimportant; though excellently portrayed by Nathan Varnson and Ryan Jones, the brothers seem to be mere pawns who are leading us towards something…but only Carbone knows what. It is this prevailing air of uncertainty regarding which direction(s) Carbone will take the story that makes Hide Your Smiling Faces something unique and worthwhile. It is extremely rare that a minimalist production can pack such anticipation. I don’t know how Carbone pulls it off, be he does so with spades.