Electrick mayhem

Culty coming-of-age film Electrick Children boasts excellent acting questionable plot

It’s probably a law of nature that everyone at some point utters a hyperbolic phrase about how meaningless life would be without music (for me it was an oft-repeated mantra during that awful 13-year-old Good Charlotte/Green Day phase). Of course such statements are occasionally poignant — think Biggie’s “if I wasn’t in the rap game I’d probably have a key knee-deep in the crack game” or Andy from The Shawshank Redemption ’s line about how music is necessary to remind prison inmates that “there are places in this world that aren’t made out of stone.” Thankfully Electrick Children works along those lines: it’s a refreshing cliché-free reminder of how transformative music can be.

The film tells the tale of Rachel McKnight a 15-year-old who lives in a fundamentalist Mormon colony somewhere in rural Utah. Circumstances are both archaic and bizarre: marriages are arranged children are copious in number and cassette tapes are considered evil unless used for “God’s purposes” to quote Rachel’s older brother (who she exclusively refers to as “Mr. Will”). Via a series of brilliantly acted events Rachel discovers a tape deck in the basement of her house and her subsequent listening party of The Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone” is the first time she’s ever heard recorded music.

Because of an utter absence of sex ed (courtesy of a decade and a half of religious brainwashing) Rachel becomes convinced that the voice she heard on the cassette tape is that of God and that she’s been impregnated the same way Mary allegedly was back in the heyday of immaculate conception.

She begins to miss her periods and everything. Quirky premise sure but it’s not that much of a stretch for anyone who’s spent time in fundamentalist circles. Being a single mother is one of those many frowned-upon situations in religion so Rachel embarks on a quest to find a father. But not just any father. It has to be the singer of that God damn song. And if there’s one place you can almost certainly find a rock has-been it’s Vegas.

The ensuing story of Rachel’s escape to and exploration of Sin City is an often hilarious one greatly accentuated by the perfectly cast Rory Culkin. We first encounter his character teen slacker Clyde as he’s getting booted from a bar clad in an awful Hawaiian shirt. It’s the kind of scene that stands out most in Electrick Children — it fits seamlessly into the narrative because we’ve all seen it happen or it’s happened to us. The acting is well above the bar set by the many similar films (idiosyncratic teetering on the line of believability) which only makes the experience that much more enveloping. Julia Garner (Rachel) and Billy Zane (Paul who’s Rachel’s father) are standouts.

It’s a massive bummer then that the film falls to pieces in the third act. The acting and cinematography continues to be exceptional until the last frame but even that combo can’t quite save the crippling plot errors — in a half-hour we see a bunch of illogical decisions made a series of totally unbelievable coincidences and a deus ex machina that would rival the Chamber of Secrets . Perhaps the basic premise of the film was so appealing to the production company that it didn’t bother finding out how it would end. Whatever the problem it was enough to drop the movie from a “must-see” to “passable.”

Electrick Children had a large enough pool of well-rounded relatable characters and unconventional circumstances to join the catalogue of exceptional and eccentric indie films like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. It’s too bad the storyline wasn’t thought through.