Chloe Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me tenderly depicts life on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation as equally poetic and sobering. A dual coming-of-age story, the film unfolds through the eyes of high school senior Johnny Winters (John Reddy) and his younger sister Jashaun (Jashaun St. John) who live in a community ravaged by rampant alcoholism, weakened social institutions and a fractured cultural identity.
When their estranged patriarch (a known philanderer who's fathered many children with different women) dies in a house fire, the siblings are forced to address their own complicated heritage and definition of family. Johnny illegally sells liquor and plans to move to Los Angeles with his girlfriend where she will be attending college, while Jashaun assists a local roadside vendor who sells art and clothing prominently featuring the slogan "Rez Life."
The pragmatic decisions both children make reflect a different reality than the one discussed in their school. During one fascinating classroom scene a high school teacher asks his students to name their dream job, leaving many (including Johnny) conflicted about confessing professional aspirations that might never happen. The future they see for themselves (poverty, recovery) stands in stark contrast to the one their educators are asking them to bravely envision.
Disconnects like this one helps fuel the cyclical pattern of self-destruction and decay that has hampered so many of the residents' lives. Zhao, a first time filmmaker, patiently observes these conundrums rather than passing judgment, and her stellar cast of non-professional actors delivers a great ensemble performance. The camera often lingers on the children watching their parents for long spells, multiple generations stuck in a social quagmire together.
Songs My Brothers Taught Me, which opens Friday, April 8, at the Digital Gym Cinema, is a socially relevant and aesthetically impressive film. It considers the hopeful and bleak qualities of underrepresented experiences in equal measure.
April and the Extraordinary World: In this animated fantasy based on the popular graphic novel, a teenage girl goes in search of her missing scientist parents.
Born to Be Blue: Ethan Hawke stars as Chet Baker in this biopic about the famous 1960s jazz musician.
Cemetery of Splendour: A psychic and a nurse try to help a group of sleeping soldiers who are under observation at a newly set up hospital. Screens through Thursday, April 14, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Demolition: Jake Gyllenhaal plays an investment banker who struggles to cope with his wife’s death after a tragic car crash.
Everybody Wants Some!!: Richard Linklater wrote and directed this “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused about a group of college baseball players who navigate the complications of young adulthood.
Mr. Right: Sam Rockwell stars as a wacky hitman who kills the people that hire him. When he falls in love with a young woman (Anna Kendrick), she forces him to re-examine his life choices.
Songs My Brothers Taught Me: Set on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the film a teenager and his sister as they confront the realities of community decay and complicated heritage. Screens through Thursday, April 14, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Standing Tall: This drama starring Catherine Deneuve follows the life of a juvenile delinquent as he goes in and out of the child services program in France. Screens through Thursday, April 14, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Boss: Melissa McCarthy plays a disgraced corporate mogul who is sent to prison for insider training. Once released, she attempts to gain forgiveness from all the people she screwed over.
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Caddyshack: Chevy Chase plays a snarky young golfer who joins a snooty country club and is met with instant disdain from the older clientele. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Sleeping With Other People: Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie play a couple of troubled thirty-something’s who form a platonic relationship to make amends for past relationship indiscretions. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
The Room: Oh what an amazing mess this is. If you haven’t seen Tommy Wiseau’s awful oddity, do yourself a favor and check it out. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at the Ken Cinema.
Bridge of Spies: Tom Hanks plays a New York City litigator tasked with defending a Russian spy caught on American soil at the height of the Cold War. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at the Chula Vista Civic Center Library.
Donnie Darko: Richard Kelly’s strange and illusive debut film set in suburban hell of the 1980s tells the story of a disaffected teenage boy who begins to have visions. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.
Superbad: Jonah Hill and Michael Cera play high school students hell bent on having one crazy night of drinking and sex. They get that and then some. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.