Saturday 18 June 2022

Movie Review: The Fallout (2021)

A drama about the aftereffects of tragedy, The Fallout is a clear-eyed yet tender look at two young lives forced to the limits of emotional resiliency.

High school students Vada (Jenna Ortega) and Mia (Maddie Ziegler) have little in common, but take refuge in the same bathroom stall during a school shooting. They are traumatized, but both survive. Vada's friend Quinton (Niles Fitch) loses his brother in the shooting.

In the aftermath, a friendship develops between the scrappy and grounded Vada and the more aristocratic dancer Mia. Vada now feels detached from her parents (John Ortiz and Julie Bowen), and her previously close relationship with younger sister Amelia is strained. She also withdraws from her best friend Nick (Will Ropp), who immerses himself in gun control activism. Mia and Vada experiment with drinks, weed, and intimacy, while Vada starts seeing therapist Anna (Shailene Woodley).

Less interested in a linear plot and more concerned with the everyday process of picking up the pieces, The Fallout is about what happens when the news cameras move on to the next story. Writer and director Megan Park crafts a quiet drama punctuated by moments of distress, as Vada and Mia navigate an uncharted wilderness filled with funerals, trauma, guilt, nightmares, emptiness, and the eternal loss of any sense of security.

The film embraces honest and raw emotions and refuses easy resolutions, as every character deals with the tragedy in their own way, none of them perfect, all bumping against unmarked bruises. Vada's pathway out of horror is filled with dead-ends, missteps, ups, downs, and jagged edges. Friendships are forged then tested, promising relationships flounder, and the most precious bonds start to disintegrate. Parents are more helpless and annoying than helpful, and Vada has to accelerate the growing up process and define new boundaries on the fly. 

Park draws out two eloquent performances from the young leads. Jenna Ortega allows Vada to cling to the illusion of being ok while she is clearly not. Maddie Ziegler as Mia is more soulful, seemingly popular but surprisingly already lonely before the shooting, and now relieved to find a new friend to help navigate the coping process. The scenes between them marinate in the comfortably awkward warmth of distressed youth forging precious but fragile connections.

The actresses safeguard the core, as in the absence of traditional narrative arcs the film sometimes drifts into repetitive notes. A faint light at the end of a disorienting tunnel does eventually start to flicker, although the monsters unleashed in a damaged mind are also on guard to block recovery paths.

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