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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 08.17.12] drama

In their newest feature, the Zellner Brothers almost tackle the matter of how a child forms their own sense of morality when the adults are absent...almost. Kid-Thing is about an anarchic child without any concept of responsibility or consequence, finding herself responsible for a woman's life. With its promising plot, it offers a darker alternative to the preconceived notion that youth is a period of innocence. Unfortunately, between a few nagging production follies and repetitive dialogue, it comes off as a passable indie film that may have been just as effective as a short.

It's not so easy for a kid. Just as it seems easier for children to make quick friends, it's even easier to decide who doesn't belong on the playground. To the local children of Austin, 10-year-old Annie is, unfortunately, of the latter. But who cares? Under the limited guidance of a simple-minded goat farmer, Marvin, Annie is free to do as she pleases, whether it be prank calling, stealing or chucking dough at moving cars. During a typical day of mischief, Annie stumbles upon Esther, a woman trapped in an unusually placed pit, deep in the woods near her house. At first, Annie undergoes a moral debate as to whether or not she should release Esther, who may or may not be the devil. However, as Esther's pleas take on a frantic tone, Annie's reluctance to rescue her seems to become more about rebellion than concern. To a child like Annie, without rules or boundaries, pleas to find an adult take the form of any other command that, unfortunately for Esther need only be met with defiance.

One can hardly blame Annie for her odd behavior and her skewed sense of right and wrong. The relationship between Annie and Marvin is barely that of a father and daughter. It's more of an acquaintance between two children, forced into each other's company and mutually disinterested in each other's existence. As Marvin spends the bulk of his time with Caleb, battling with Roman candles, playing scratch offs and chuckling at Annie's expense, Marvin appears to enjoy his childlike antics more so when his child is not involved. The more we see Annie struggling to connect with and seek advice from Marvin the more we recognize her disregard toward others as a direct reflection of her father's aversion to parenthood.

We also can't help but wonder, after watching Annie ostracized by her peers and ignored by her father, if her motives for "keeping" Esther is born out of loneliness, rather than fear or stubbornness. However, a level of tolerability for irresponsible behavior, even for the most reckless of 10-year-olds, has its limits. As Annie slips in and out of her childish rage, interpreting Esther's frustrated commands as everything other than what they are, it becomes easier to sympathize with Esther. Arguing against saving person's life in the same manner a child would do when asked to take out the trash doesn't add any layers to the protagonist-it turns her into a nuisance. The real tragedy of the story becomes the fact that of all the people who could have stumbled upon this pit, it was Annie.

Part of this is due to the dialogue. Portraying a stubborn 10-year-old child, whose knowledge of the world is restricted to a running distance from her home, does not have to be limiting as it sounds. We don't expect any grand philosophical speeches but nearly all of Annie's interactions consist of a few brief, negative statements and typical "you can't make me" comebacks. It also doesn't help that Caleb is essentially a live action version of a South Park redneck, with conversation between him and Marvin proving to be just as interesting. Following a child protagonist aimlessly wreaking havoc may be amusing, at first, but that can even wear thin in an 83-minute movie, and when we're left with this type of repetitive dialogue it feels even more like a dragged out short film.

There are many striking, colorful shots that compliment the story well. Even the simple technique of using high angle shots while placing Annie low on the screen helps to decrease Annie's cocksure attitude when faced with judgmental peers and emphasize her seclusion while roaming alone. Other production techniques, however, left a bit too be desired. For example, it's difficult to become invested in an intimate scene of Marvin milking his goats with a glare bouncing off the top of his head. Also, the decision to keep nearly the entire movie free of background music could have worked perfectly if they had only followed the idea all the way through. Instead, the foreboding sound effects that are occasionally tossed in to provide a more ominous tone to certain scenes only draw attention to themselves, making it sound almost as if they were added at random toward the end of post-production.

Several have complemented the Zellner style of holding the camera on a scene until the action slips into comical absurdity. There are many films that this works well for-I don't know if this is one of them. Literally, I don't know. One might say that focusing on an awkward and confused pair of men, searching for whatever object may have damaged their car, for an extended period of time is a perfect example of the Zellners' comedic creativity. Another might say that it's yet another scene dragged two seconds too long, in the hopes of squeezing a drop of comedy out of a moment that is not inherently funny. However, just as any review is based on debatable opinion, this is merely another judgment that depends on individual taste.

I applaud the efforts of Kid-Thing. The plot is remarkable and promising, and her misfit antics, shooting clerks with paintball guns, nailing vehicles with dough, etc., hit their mark. We truly feel like we're watching a young tomboy, in her natural habitat, behaving as any of us might have when not under a guardian's watchful eye. However, between the Annie's maddening stubbornness and the avoidable production issues, it is a beautiful story that, in the end, comes off functions more as a mildly nod-worthy independent circuit film at best. A film that a few critics and excited filmgoers will rave about, then promptly forget.

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