[Fantastic Fest review​] ‘WYRM’ a coming-of-age story with the DNA of Taika Waititi and Wes Anderson

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James C. Clay // Film Critic

WYRM

Not rated, 116 minutes.
Director: Christopher Winterbauer
Cast: Theo Taplitz, Azure Brandi, Tommy Dewey, Lulu Wilson

WYRM is one of those movies that can make us feel a little less lonely in the world. Christopher Winterbauer’s infectious feature debut —- expanded from his Sundance short— subverts coming of age story expectations with dry humor, crafty world-building and poignant bits of dialogue. This unique teen comedy has the filmmaker announcing their art to the world in big way. It’s a tender depiction about growing up in the wake of a tragedy. On the surface WYRM may be about your awkward in-between years, but deep down lies a story that’s universally affecting. 

Christopher Winterbauer’s infectious feature debut, WYRM, subverts typical expectations of a coming-of-age story with dry humor, crafty world-building and poignant bits of dialogue. This unique teen comedy has the filmmaker announcing his art to the world through a tender depiction of growing up in the wake of a tragedy. On the surface, WYRM may be about your awkward in-between years, but deep down lies a story that’s universally affecting.

This strange world caught in the middle of the past, present, and future brings to life the embarrassment of burgeoning teen sexuality. Wyrm Whitner (Theo Taplitz) is the only kid going into 9th grade who hasn’t experienced his first kiss. His shame is made painfully apparent due to the collar he is required to wear to school until he can lock lips with someone. This albatross was designed to curb isolation, but the consequences of not passing can cause a lifetime of embarrassment. It doesn’t help that Wyrm shares a room with his fraternal twin sister Myrcella (Azure Brandi), whose collar just popped after hooking up with a foreign exchange student — further isolating the dinosaur-loving teen.

From Left to Right Azure Brandi, Lukas Gage, Theo Taplitz in WYRM

Although Wyrm frequently receives petty ridicule, he is a pretty cool kid whose dino-themed accouterments include an incredible shirt featuring a helmet-wearing T-Rex. He later catches the attention of his sister’s eternally cool friend Izzy (Lulu Wilson). The Whitner family recently suffered the loss of their eldest son Dylan (Lukas Gage) in a car crash. Wyrm has no close confidant to talk to except his uncle (a charming Tommy Dewey), who provides him with earnest, yet half-hearted life advice. His dad has locked himself in the bathroom for the past few weeks, if not months, citing constipation and his mom (Rosemarie DeWitt) has undertaken a soul searching trek across the country. All the while he’s been recording interviews centered around a memorial project for his deceased brother. Despite a lot of set-up, Winterbauer can communicate the film’s specific tone and message through building character and set design.

You never really know what you’re going to get with WYRM. It’s a story about discovering one’s sexuality. It’s also a story about getting along with your siblings and coping with grief. Winterbauer’s script is committed to making the audience laugh in uncomfortable moments and find wisdom as the characters grow. WYRM catches you completely off guard with how effortlessly put together the film appears. Winterbauer’s debut belongs in the same whimsical realms as Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, and Taika Waititi. It’s so tough to capture the essence of 90s nostalgia on film without pandering to the cheap seats. In Winterbauer’s film, this is how this world has always existed, there’s no affinity for the past, and the conceit is much more than simple set dressings.

Each face on-screen seamlessly blends into part of the canvas. Taplitz and Brandi are the key standouts steering the sibling rivalry and finding poignant moments in the unexpected spaces amidst the film’s quirky sense of humor. Taplitz lets the setting and story do a lot of the heavy lifting, while his performance is assured and giving to his scene partners.

WYRM is a unique movie that has the spirit of youth coursing through every fiber of its being. It’s a treat seeing a filmmaker coming out of the left field to make a touching film that feels like it has always existed. Winterbauer earnestly attempts to connect by using heightened aesthetics while grounding any element that makes this appear like a lame excuse for some form of hipster irony. We may all have some unknown collar around our neck, but stories like this make the growing process a little less cringeworthy. You may not know WYRM yet, but the wait will be so worth it.

GRADE: B+

Wyrm had its premiere at Fantastic Fest. It will encore Wednesday September 25th at 2pm. It’s currently seeking distribution.