Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
Lean on Pete
TIFF 2017 film #20
Reason for pick - director Andrew Haigh - 45 Years
I loved Haigh’s previous film, 45 years. I considered it virtually perfect. So, this is a high bar to judge his latest film by.
While Haigh’s naturalistic touch is still evident, I don’t think, story wise, Willy Vlautin’s source novel was as strong or nuanced as David Constantine’s short story, and I think this puts the film at a disadvantage when comparing the two.
Lean on Pete is very much a two act film. Act one, which is heavily weighted with getting to know our lead, a 15 year old boy who is craving belonging, played with incredible skill by Charlie Plummer. Haigh teases out Plummer’s reserved, yet completely genuine, performance by juxtaposing him with a far more animated father, realized with impish lothario charm, by Travis Fimmel, and a curmudgeonly, constantly annoyed, horse trainer, played to perfection by the king of constantly annoyed, the brilliant Steve Buscemi. While the father son scenes are deliberately awkward, the scenes between Plummer and Buscemi, their characters seem to fit hand in glove. ( I just read that Plummer worked with Buscemi on Boardwalk Empire, which I have yet to watch, but might explain the completely natural rapport ).
I had really expected the story to dwell in the Plummer / Buscemi world, especially when Chloë Sevigny’s well played Jockey is introduced. This was going to be Plummer’s ‘mother he never had’ … it was screaming out to me, but no.
*mild spoilers for those sensitive types, like me*
Lean on Pete bolts, and becomes a completely different animal.
The second half rather reminded me of Lynch’s unlikely The Straight Story, except without any of the joy. Even through the ordeal, Plummer’s Charlie remains true. The heartbreaking thing, for me, was that while the help offered could have have easily taken Charlie to his goal, the distrust of that help made me realize how kids become homeless. How you can be lost; and that’s rather crushing.
*end of mild spoilers*
It certainly takes skill to avoid the deep pitfalls that await a story like this, and particularly an ending like this, and Andrew Haigh, once again, demonstrates that skill. While I don’t admire Lean on Pete as much as 45 Years, I certainly do admire Andrew Haigh just as much, and look forward to his next project.