By Silje Solland (Ebert Young Writers Participant)
Set in 1985 and based on James Franco’s short stories from his collections, A California Childhood &Palo Alto, Yosemite is a visually stunning 4-part story about three boys exploring their feelings and imagination as they face the reality of adulthood and the threat of a mountain lion.
Director Gabrielle Demesteree’s debut feature film manages to use the thoughts and minds of young boys to deliver a story that is ambiguous and refreshing. Split into parts focusing on one boy at the time, the film makes it harder to predict the direction of where the story is headed and wraps up the connection between them in a very natural way. For example in one scene that is about one boy, you see the other boys in the same classroom. As the story goes on, interactions between them increase little by little and blend into the last act of the film. Using the boys as the main narration tool we gain deep insight as to how they perceive the world.
During a Q&A at the screening at Hawaii International Film Festival, Demesteree revealed that Franco’s mother was surprised and worried learning about his son James’ understanding of childhood in the stories. She had no clue as to how a boy may understand the world surrounding him.
However, despite Franco being top-billed, he only has a tiny part in the beginning of Act 1. I think in other instances this would bother me because the poster itself builds up an expectation about this being a movie concentrated on his character. Thankfully I believe Demesteree found a way that makes the wrong expectation acceptable. The feelings and themes vary from a scene where two brothers are told the truth about how babies are made by their father at the age of 10, to how they handle bullying and loneliness. They are all memorable moments in the film and delivered in a most genuine and natural way by the actors and their set environment.
What truly impressed me was the visually striking cinematography and use of pale yet complementing colors. Demesteree mentioned that the colors were collected and tested beforehand using a scrapbook with all sorts of samples, pictures and other references. Blue pants, beige sweaters. James Franco dressed as Phil reminds me of how my brother used to dress when I was little in the early 90s. The relationship between this story and the more known vibrant colors of the 80s glam period would simply not work together to show this tory. An example of the visual beauty is the majestic Yosemite National Park. The untouched scenery and nature featured in the film complement the relaxed and retro clothes giving the film a natural and believable environment for this universe.
All in all I had a pleasant experience watching this film. I thought this would be another Hollywood blockbuster movie that only focus on cool special effects to create the illusion of quality, but no. Its story and compelling aesthetics combined with amazing acting performances makes this movie worth your time.