#TIFF23: “FRYBREAD FACE AND ME” REVIEW
By David Baldwin
The year is 1990. Benny (Keir Tallman) lives in the city but has just been informed by his parents that he will be spending the summer at his Grandmother’s house on Navajo Nation. She only speaks Navajo and all the customs and activities are a mystery to Benny. When his bilingual cousin Dawn (Charley Hogan) – or as she is known to the rest of the family, Frybread Face – comes to stay unexpectedly, things start tense and then slowly dissipate into a strong familial bond neither expected.
Writer/Director Billy Luther’s narrative debut feels authentic and lived-in from the moment Benny steps foot on the reservation right up until the end credits roll. The soft photography conveys the time period well (taking place in 1990 makes this a period piece, really?!), and the acting by Tallman and Hogan is wonderful. They both bring a sense of innocence, naïveté and sadness to their roles, and their chemistry and banter is quite lovely. And I loved how much Dawn was a fan of both Jeff Bridges and Starman.
I liked the slice-of-life style Luther is going for here, breezily moving along from moment to moment over the course of that summer. It’s the stuff that exists on the outside that made me want more from it. We never really get to know any other characters, and we barely know who Benny is outside of loving Fleetwood Mac and not understanding his culture and heritage. Yet there is so much more to that living in the margins and never really explored, and the nostalgic narration does not help massage that so much as it just tells us what we can already see. It is a totally fine movie for all intents and purposes; I just was left wanting it to be much more than that.
FRYBREAD FACE AND ME screens at TIFF ’23:
Monday, September 11 at 6:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto
Wednesday, September 13 at 12:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto