Songs My Brothers Taught Me

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File under: reserved but not resigned. Writer-director Chloé Zhao tells a simple story: young man dreams of running away to a better life somewhere else, but the best laid plans etc., because life is already happening right here. Happily, she tells it clean and straight, and so calls to mind the unblinking humanity of 2010’s Winter’s Bone. If her own take on Dad’s-dead-now-what desperation is not as nerve-wracking — we get a deadly fire instead of an explosion, booze instead of meth, etc. — her vision is more encompassing. Instead of focusing hard on her (quietly capable) star John Reddy, she uses his story to provide a moseying tour of life on the Lakota reservation, circa right now: the empty beauty of the badlands, the ancient struggle with alcohol, and the persistent push of youth to make good and make sense of a bad old world that somehow keeps hope alive. If this tour of unfamiliar terrain gets slow in places, it also gives you sufficient on-the-ground oddity to keep you engaged. (2016) — Matthew Lickona

Rated NR | 1 hour, 38 minutes
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