Zoe Eisenberg, Phillips Payson
Zoe Eisenberg, Phillips Payson
There's something special about a good coming of age story. Something that touches the heart - and manages to keep you along for the ride. Even without a massive amount of huge special effects, action, violence or outright grade school comedy. If the mix is right, a concoction of people meeting and interacting with people, a few jokes thrown in and an interesting story... it's usually enough. Oh - and good characters as well. We definitely need them. Characters that could be our very own friends or family, even the zany ones, always work best. It just so happens that this film has them - and man... does it work well. "Stoke" isn't a coming of age story. Well, not really. It does however, share all the same characteristics. Coming of age, finding oneself, dealing with grief - all share the same potential elements to make a great film. Zoe Eisenberg and Phillips Payson have tapped into that feeling, and it's all served up right here... in this film.
"Stoke" allows us to follow along with Jane, a grief stricken woman who despite her best efforts, can't seem to let go - after losing her significant other. Her bosses want her to finally return to work but Jane, simply isn't ready. Like so many grief stricken people, she simply can't seem to function - and even therapy hasn't helped. In a last ditch attempt, one way or the other, she decides to go to Hawaii - but not so she can laze around the beaches. Rather to see the lava flows. After hiring two tour guides, who are definitely not really tour guides, the road trip, the film begins. On her journey, this white stranger not only attempts to find herself - but in a round about way, help her guides as well. "Stoke" is about healing. It's about adventure but most of all... it's about people. The lush landscapes and beautiful images of Hawaii, the realistic portrayal of the natives - and the presentation of the volcano itself - are just the gravy. Depth and wonder thrown into a great story with some great characters. Did I enjoy this film? You bet.
Essentially, the scenery of this film act as a secondary character. It all looks so damn amazing. Making a movie is hard - but getting to visit these locations must have made creating this flick a joy. Living there? Holy hell, it must be something! Yet there was also some care taken to portray the locations for what they are. Beautiful but definitely nature driven. The "land rules" they say, and this is accurately shown in this flick. Still, for those who have never been like myself - it's all a wonder.
The cast themselves also do fantastic jobs - enough to have held my attention while competing with the movies visuals. I've gone on and on about the happy-go-lucky feeling of this film, but don't be fooled - there is plenty of drama. "Stoke" isn't all roses, and the characters deal with some very real, and dramatic issues. I really can't think of anyone who stood out as below average. Even slightly. For an indie flick, the simple way to say it is this. The acting feels very real. The viewer could be a fly, witnessing real people on a real journey. Nice job.
Truthfully, there really isn't much to complain about when writing about the production technicalities. Perhaps using the fade to black as often as it is used in this movie, as a transition, was a little distracting. But that's a minor issue and honestly? Didn't bother me that much. Transitions aside, the edit and pacing felt pretty decent, the script was obviously a good one and, as I wrote above, the casting was excellent. What more do you need for a successful film?
At the end of the day? I'm not a huge fan of the straight up drama. I prefer that grade school comedy, that I wrote about above, and a good amount of action. And yet... I really enjoyed my time watching this film. Some may nit-pick a spot here or there, as I did above, but when it's all said and done? What's not to like? Sometimes the genre doesn't matter. Sometimes little imperfections don't matter - hell - they can even enhance a film! If a movie is good it's good. That's all that matters right? And "Stoke" is pretty darn good. Enough said and a well earned four out of five stars.