Runs Fri., April 19–Thurs., April 25 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 72 minutes.
Remember Slacker? Think all the way back to 1991, when Richard Linklater began following someone around Austin, and then—hey, what happened to that guy?—we began following someone else. And then someone else. And then someone else. And yet while nothing much connected those serial episodes, Slacker was fresh and funny. The beads-on-a-string approach to story either works or doesn’t, depending on the strength of its vignettes and actors. In Pavilion, shot in lush, wet upstate New York and the ugly, dry suburbs of Arizona, director Tim Sutton tries that approach on a smaller scale with fewer players, but to little avail.
Teenaged Max lolls around a lake, where his divorced mom has waterfront property and a boat. He’s even got a semi-girlfriend, and school’s out for summer. Why would he leave? But Sutton forces Max to visit his dad in Phoenix, where the two stay in a cheap, rent-by-the-month motel. Out in the dark parking lot, a squadron of BMX-riding teens does tricks in a culvert, under the harsh streetlights. Max is desperate to join them, does, and the story shifts to a new kid.
No one among Sutton’s amateur cast is much of an actor, and they aren’t given any memorable lines. They just swim, ride bikes and skateboards, walk in the woods, and behave like ordinary adolescents. This isn’t the dangerous, stylized teen world of Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant; there’s no foreboding of OD’s or Instagram rape. Sutton’s approach isn’t voyeuristic, but naturalism only gets him so far.
Something like the documentary Only the Young, seen at NWFF last month, this is a world where adults barely figure. There are hints that Max and his cohort need better parenting, as when they visit a trailer-trash party with exactly the wrong kind of adult supervision. But Sutton likewise refuses to guide his teen characters. They fend for themselves; they come and they go; and then they pass from our view.