Lean on Pete

Review by Robyn Kilroy 

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Lean on Pete is the new quintessential coming-of-age film that, without a doubt will stand the test of time as one of the best depictions of growing up. Based off the titualar novel by Willy Vlautin, the film tells the story of Charley, a lonely and isolated teen who has just moved to Portland with his unreliable father. After getting a job working with racehorses, Charley develops a bond with a horse called Lean on Pete. With Charley’s Dad admitted to hospital, and Pete about to be sent to the slaughterhouse, Charley and Pete embark on a journey across the desert to escape the horrors they both face.

For me, the coming-of-age genre can very easily go wrong. More often than not, they tend to end up being hammy and unrealistic about the themes and issues young people face as they grow up. I applaud Lean on Pete for its non-sentimental and realistic take on the coming of age genre. There is no sugar coating this story, as we see Charley come to terms with the hard facts of life. While many of us cannot imagine the woes Charlie must face, we certainly can relate to growing up and having to come to terms with harsh realities. Like many of us when we’re young (or even older), Charley runs from his harsh reality. It’s the emotional connection between the protagonist and the audience that make film great, but none can provide that connection quite like a coming-of-age film like Lean on Pete. With an excellent performance by Charlie Plummer, who brings the character of Charley to life, I couldn’t help but feel extreme empathy for the young teenager, even when he has to commit some immoral acts just to survive.

Charley’s isolation is emphasised by the use of scenery and location throughout the film. At the beginning, many of the locations that Charley inhabits are claustrophobic - the dark stables and sparse rooms of the house he and his father live in. I couldn’t help but see this as a reflection of Charley’s claustrophobia as he come to terms with tough situations alone. The scenery changes when Charley and Pete run away, in which we, the audience, are treated to breath-taking views of Northern American planes. In sequences where Charlie and Pete travel alone across vast deserts, the landscapes are treated with long shots and long takes. The vastness of this scenery adds to Charley’s feelings of seclusion. We feel Charley’s isolation in these images, as he is forced to deal with situations that are too big for him alone.

This film broke my heart, but for all the right reasons. Each character, no matter how small, felt legitimate. While it is impossible for me to comprehend the trials Charley faces in this film, it is certainly a believable and moving tale. With outstanding performances and imagery, Lean on Pete is nothing less than a great coming-of-age film.