Writer/Director Felix Thompson has something to say about being a teenager coming of age in a town with little to offer. Whether or not Thompson actually grew up this way is beyond me, but his depiction of the life of his protagonist in “King Jack” is so flooded with inspiration, it’s hard to imagine there is not a bit of himself written into this character. “King Jack” is a poignant tale centered around a fifteen-year-old at the height of puberty and his journey towards accepting himself and connecting to those around him.
An opening scene shows a dog chained to a leash, whining for its food dish that is just out of reach. This is an early foreshadowing of Jack’s situation- his small town doesn’t necessarily breed self-starters or ambitious types and any desire he may have of bigger and better things comes second to his affinity for video games and hanging out with friends. After hearing the news of his aunt’s mental breakdown, Jack’s mom assigns him the task of watching his younger cousin who is staying with them. What starts out as an awkward arrangement quickly turns into a strong bond as together, they experience the highs and lows of small town crushes, bullies, and general adolescent misadventures.

Charlie Plummer is fantastic in his first major role as the titular Jack. His portrayal of a kid with a youthful innocence while simultaneously trying to be the tough guy is commendable. Despite his I-don’t-care attitude, we see through that tough outer shell to a sweet interior, and this makes him extremely likeable. The supporting actors, including Yainis Ynoa and Cory Nichols who all give great, natural performances as well, make this narrative feel more like a documentary in the best way possible.

Thompson paints the small, lower class town with a bluish hue- giving it a muggy feeling. The cinematography alone elicits sensations of groggy days and mosquito-infested nights. It’s the type of town where kids throw rocks for fun, smoke and drink before noon, and pick fights basically because there is nothing better to do.  Displaying such a strong sense of the surroundings practically makes this unnamed town a character of its own.

“King Jack” won the Audience Award at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why. Jack is the type of hero we like and root for, his pure heart and sensitive soul make him a strong lead. The story is not groundbreaking and, certainly, this type of cliché, coming-of-age film has been told before and will be again, but this one makes for a great addition to the genre. Ultimately, this is a story about friendship and realizing that the best way to navigate through life is to value your connection with others.

“King Jack” is not rated. Opens in theaters at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 and on demand Friday, 6/10.