I Declare WarReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/30/13 08:56:15
SCREENED AT THE 15TH ANNUAL BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: "I Declare War" is a terrific little coming-of-age movie that's made all the better because there are no adults and no real crises in it; it's just kids evolving into something that's not quite the same as what they were. Well, not just that; the path is tremendously funny and imaginative, even if it may be a little eyebrow-raising for some who may have forgotten some of what being a kid was like.These kids, for instance, play elaborate games of war in the woods during their free time. The rules are simple: Two generals choose teams, and then each secretly chooses a base in which to defend their flag. Get "shot" with a toy gun, and you're down for a toy count; get hit with a paint balloon grenade, and you're out, go home. P.K. (Gage Munroe) is the undisputed champion, having never lost a war; his team includes his best friend Kwon (Siam Yu), loudmouth Joker (Spencer Howes), altar boy Wesley (Andy Reid), and silent ninja Caleb (Kolton Stewart)... Plus Caleb's dog Shadow. The other side is led by Quinn (Aidan Gouveia) and includes hothead Skinner (Michael Friend), grumpy Sikorski (Dyson Fyke), his motor-mouthed buddy Frost (Alex Cardillo), and Jess (Mackenzie Munroe), the first girl to play, and that's in part because of the crush she's got on Quinn. Today, though, the game is going to change, when Skinner takes Kwon prisoner and stages a coup against his own general.
An adult watching these kids play in real life is probably just going to see what's happening on the surface, not quite understanding how to a kid, these games are deadly serious and able to take on a whole heightened reality in their imagination. So directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson will sometimes show them holding real weapons instead of toys, with squibs going off around them and the sounds of combat mixed into the soundtrack. It's a kid's idea of war, and that comes through - scenes of the kids shooting at each other, no matter how augmented, don't seem nearly as violent as when they throw rocks or kick each other.
That's as it should be, and the fact that the kids do a little more than play-act and roughhouse is important: The way they play and the reasons some throw themselves into the game whole-heartedly mean that these kids can hurt each other, emotionally if not physically. The last act, in particular, does a great job of pulling together all the exaggerated bits from earlier on and showing how there's something in there about tunnel-vision or jealousy or just wanting to fit in that adults will relate to or at least remember, even if both the scale and perceived scale are fairly unique to twelve-year-olds. That's especially true of Jess, who is getting to a point where she's a live grenade in this group of boys and starting to realize it.
Because of that, Mackenzie Munroe probably has the trickiest tightrope to walk out of the entire cast - on the one level, she's got to be playing a more mature, complex game than the boys, but her she's also got to show us that her thought process is in many ways just as naive and immature, lest the audience hate her (and some folks are going to hate her anyway); she manages it quite well. In many ways. she's the real opposite number to Gage Munroe's P.K. - both with great instincts for the games that they're playing, starting with pretty pure intentions, but kind of blind to the carnage they leave behind. It's still often easier to like Munroe's character, it part because he's one of the smallest kids who attacks every moment with enthusiasm, and he's got such a natural rapport with Siam Yu: Even though they spend much of the movie separated, and they don't exclude anyone else in larger groups, they're obviously best friends. There's a similar camaraderie between Dyson Fyke as Sikorski and Alex Cardillo as Frost, even if it is expressed and challenged in different ways. Michael Friend, meanwhile, is a whirlwind of untempered emotion as Skinner, and all the rest give pretty memorable performances despite this being a big ensemble and a quick movie.
Plus, and maybe especially, it's really funny. The juxtapositions between what's going on and what the kids are imagining is part of it, although it works well in part because Lapeyre & Wilson don't overplay the joke. The kids' energy is also infectious, especially since the filmmakers tend to split them up into odd couples that play well off each other and give them the sort of great kid dialogue that is intelligent but not particularly informed. And it is, almost always, kid jokes - the filmmakers will make a gag about how P.K. could watch Patton on a loop, but won't have adult commentary about it coming out of his mouth.The film's distributors have their work cut out for them; it's a movie about kids who swear enough that nostalgic grown-ups will be the ones most able to see it, and it will take a heck of a trailer and sales job to convince the latter that this movie is for them. It is, though - it's sharp and nostalgic and contemporary while also being very funny; just great all around.
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