It’s easy to dismiss Bruiser as just another “coming-of-age movie.” After all, from afar, the premise of a young teen juggling between two father figures in a transformative summer seems to mirror plenty of standard coming-of-age movies. However, in his feature debut, director Miles Warren infuses what seems to be a simple premise into a stylish story about fatherhood, change, and toxic masculinity that marks the arrival of a promising new voice in cinema.
Darious (brilliantly played by Till’s Jalyn Hall), a 14-year-old who is going through the harshest parts of early teenage life, arrives home in a Southern suburban town to spend the summer. After starting to study in a boarding school in the city, he finds himself as an outsider amongst his peers and a stranger to the place he grew up in. Increasingly lonely, without fully making connections with his new peers at school and constantly encountering bullies, Darious has nowhere to go. He craves to learn how to deal with conflict and defend himself, but his father, Malcolm (Shamier Anderson) spends his time working to afford his education and doesn’t spend time with him. Therefore, he gravitates toward Porter (played by Trevante Rhodes of Moonlight fame,) a mysterious man living on a boat on the outskirts of town, who Darious starts seeing as a role model.
A conflict between father figures
What ensues is a battle between two father figures and two opposing world views that are both built over violence that begin scarring Darious’s family. This Cold War between parents becomes more complicated when, early on in the film, it is revealed that Porter is Darious’s biological father, who abandoned him when he was young. Malcolm sees Porter as an existential threat to his family. He will do everything it takes to make sure that Porter doesn’t get near it, but in doing so, he will reveal a much more aggressive and controlling side to his personality. Porter wants to be present in the life of his son, and as they start hanging out, his aggressiveness and hyper-masculinity start rubbing unto Darious and turn him from shy and reserved to rebellious and defiant.
The film follows the increasing tension between this conflict and, while the different factions of the conflict over who gets to be Darious’s father figure are clearly defined, the backstory behind it remains nebulous throughout the film. It is clear both Malcolm and Porter have very violent pasts and they were close friends before Darious was born, but Bruiser is not quick to paint heroes and villains. Audiences don’t get extended flashbacks explaining in detail what happened. Instead, we just get conflicting accounts as both men try to influence Darious. This, in combination with its meditative and long-winded scenes full of raw and observational dialogue make Bruiser a realistic story. The film possesses an odd pacing but that is concordant with the cine veritas approach that Warren and co-writer Ben Medina give to the story. However, despite a script that feels realistic, the cinematography film a soft and dream-like mood that makes the characters distant, while at times it helps in its poignant portrayal of teenage life, it also comes at the expense of a sense of connection with the rest of the characters.
Bruiser feels like a James Baldwin novel: a deep portrayal of reality with a lush and distinctive style. The film makes an important point about toxic masculinity. Despite good intentions, all men are vulnerable to it and, if it’s not addressed, it can hinder us from living happy and fulfilling lives and potentially even hurt those we love.
The bottom line
Anchored in a phenomenal performance by Jalyn Hall, Bruiser is an interesting and stylish exploration of toxic masculinity that proves for an interesting watch, even if its cine veritas pacing is a bit rough around the edges.
Bruiser is now available in Hulu. Watch the trailer below.
Featured Image Courtesy of Dan Anderson/Hulu
Bruiser Review - 8/10