‘Birthday Boy’ – Brice Anthony Heller’s feature debut is a lo-fi gem

Brice Anthony Heller’s feature debut brings to mind the best work of Harmony Korine and Sean Baker in its raw and touching approach to the subject matter.

Birthday Boy centers around a disillusioned young man named Yoke (a phenomenal Bryson Grimes, in his first role) on his sixteenth birthday. Yoke and his mother (Jennifer Pearl) struggle to make ends meet while his father is nowhere to be found. Added to that, Yoke is still grieving from the loss of his best friend’s suicide. All this kid really wants to do is to have some fun on his birthday, and between his raging hormones and absent father, the day isn’t going quite as planned.

Enter Rico (played by Darian Rolle to perfection) a close friend who will stop at nothing to make sure that the boy has the most memorable sixteenth ever. What begins as a seemingly normal day (albeit one involving car theft and dognapping) will ultimately evolve into something far more nuanced and bittersweet that will arguably change the course of Yoke’s life in profound and meaningful ways.

To go any further with a synopsis would take away from the overall experience of this staggeringly unique existential tone poem. These beautifully realized characters will work their way into your heart because they feel so lived-in by the fantastic actors under Heller’s minimalist and carefully constructed direction. Heller makes some artistic choices within the analog aesthetic that will stick with me for quite a while, not only because of how unique they feel, but because they exacerbate the power that is already inherent in this material. The cast is unforgettable. The writing feels authentic, as these characters speak like actual humans and not caricatures. This was a risky production, but damned if it didn’t pay off in spades.

This film is a testament to the possibilities of indie filmmaking. Look no further than Birthday Boy and the recent film, Skinamarink, to find two stellar examples of lo-fi, low budget treasures.

I can’t wait to see what Brice does next!

Cast: Bryson Grimes, Jennifer Pearl, Darian Rolle, Katrina Do, Shodi AZ, Seth Clarke, Andi Anderson, Chris Jeffreys, Ken Jackson, Michael Blacklocke, Laura Bartolotti, Ashton Dawn Holmes, Morgana Van Peebles.

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