CAPSULE: WYRM (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Christopher Winterbauer

FEATURING: Theo Taplitz, Azure Brandi, Tommy Dewey, Lulu Wilson

PLOT: A geeky young boy must kiss a girl to pass his required Sexuality 101 course and “pop his collar.”

Still from Wyrm (2019)

COMMENTS: The basic scenario is like a tween version of The Lobster. The themes and characters resemble a much lighter Welcome to the Dollhouse or a much darker Napoleon Dynamite, with more than a  dash of thrown into the stew. Wyrm doesn’t shy away from such comparisons; its IMDB synopsis describes it as “equal parts Yorgos Lanthimos and (but gentler).” Yet, despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, and despite covering the well-trod awkward-teen-coming-to-grips-with-his/her-place-in-society terrain, Wyrm never feels derivative; it confidently inhabits its own world.

The first-kiss collar is obviously the strangest element to this world, but the movie’s first half is filled with off-kilter comedy sketches: a pair of girls practice kissing by pecking at each other mechanically on a bus stop bench, Uncle Chet cooks the family nachos for dinner every night and serves them with tongs, and Wyrm’s twin sister warns him not to watch her practice her dance routine because “it’s provocative.” For obscure reasons, the story is also set at the dawn of the Internet, and reverent references to the Web weave throughout the narrative (“it’s like… everything,” whispers the school guidance counselor, his eyes glued to his screen.) The film’s second half is a maturity arc, as Wyrm stops focusing solely on his own troubles and instead explores and appreciates the feelings and struggles of those around him: his acerbic twin sister whose nasty demeanor hides the fact that she’s dealing with her own insecurities; Uncle Chet, who appears goofy but is ultimately a stand-up guy; Chet’s paramour Flor, a sexy senorita whose lack of English skills doesn’t mean she doesn’t see what’s going on in the family; his distant parents, a perpetually-constipated father and a mother who fled the homestead for an epic months-long trek; and a sarcastic wheelchair-bound older girl whose subdued hostility to Wyrm comes from a painful place. They are an economically-sketched society of characters who work on multiple levels, both comic foils and participants in an emotional journey.

Part absurdist farce and part earnest bildungsroman, the movie’s two agendas seem like they should work at cross purposes—but while you can sometimes see the seams, it all comes together as a charming addition to the quirky teen outcast genre. As it nears the finish line, the eccentricity and comedy start to fall away, replaced by an honest reckoning of the emotionally real effects of the film’s central tragedy. The two halves might feel like completely different movies—an offbeat teen comedy welded onto a sincere teen drama—but the transition isn’t jarring. It feels like a natural journey. The imaginary coping mechanisms of childhood drop away like Wyrm’s discarded dinosaur shirts, or a popped collar.

You can see the original 20-minute short film on Christopher Winterbauer’s Vimeo channel. Many scenes were recreated almost verbatim.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film is consistently funny, drawing a fine line between a classic coming-of-age comedy and a bonkers absurdist farce, but it shines in the amount of tenderness it brings to the screen. Balancing such strange humor with genuinely heartfelt moments is a tricky thing, and Winterbauer navigates these waters with relative ease.”–Adam Patterson, Film Pulse (festival screening)

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