Ten Thousand Saints (2015)

Ten Thousand Saints (2015)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Music
  • Directors: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
  • Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Emile Hirsch, Ethan Hawke


Follows three screwed up young people and their equally screwed up parents in the age of CBGB’s, yuppies and the tinderbox of gentrification that exploded into the Tompkins Square Park Riots in New York’s East Village in the 1980s.

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  • Conflict and transition are at the heart of Ten Thousand Saints, the warm and sensitive film adaptation of Eleanor Henderson’s novel directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the directing duo best known for American Splendor. The film is set in late-80’s New York, a period when CBGB was the temple for the hardcore whose style and attitude had yet to be made palatable and commercialised for the mass public, AIDS was coming around the corner, and the grime was about to give way to gentrification. Even stripped of its context, this coming-of-age story is an unassuming and rewarding watch.

    The film begins in Vermont, where the young Jude hears his hippie parents Harriet (Julianne Nicholson) and Les (Ethan Hawke) arguing outside his window. Later, Les confides to his young son that he got Harriet’s friend pregnant and, by the way, Jude is adopted. Several years later, Jude (now played by Asa Butterfield) is now a high-schooler whose goal in life is to get high with his childhood best friend Teddy (Avan Jogia). Teddy, whose minor appearance casts a major shadow over the proceedings, has a knack for early departures that signal crucial shifts in Jude’s life. Jude still wonders how life would have turned out if Teddy had stayed the night of Jude’s parents’ argument. Would his family still be together? Would Jude be less angry with his father for barely being in his life? And Eliza – would Jude ever have known Eliza?

    Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld) is the daughter of Les’ current flame, the privileged English ballerina Diane (Emily Mortimer). In town for a brief visit, Eliza’s presence irks Jude, who bristles when she recounts how Les took her to see her first concert. Teddy, playing mediator, forms a connection with Eliza, who encourages him to snort cocaine with her when they find themselves alone in a bathroom during a party. They kiss, she deflowers him, they rejoin Jude, she bids them farewell, and Jude convinces Teddy to huff some Freon to round out the night.

    That one night brings about unexpected consequences, including the reappearance of Les who takes Jude back to live with him in New York, where he grows weed out of his rent-controlled shoebox of an apartment. Once in the Big Apple, Jude reunites with Eliza, who has discovered she’s pregnant, and meets Johnny (Emile Hirsch), Teddy’s older half-brother who inducts Jude into the rule-governed straight-edge music scene. The three form a family of sorts as they and the assorted parental figures attempt to come together for the sake of the pregnant Eliza.

    It’s that coming together that finds Ten Thousand Saints at its richest. These are kids who have been disappointed by their parents, either through physical or emotional abandonment, and they are determined not to have the same fate befall the baby. Eliza worries that the baby will only ever be seen as a little piece of Teddy or a way for people to make up for their past mistakes. Yet despite everyone’s failings and misgivings, each person proves capable of coming through when needed the most. This is especially true of Les, who may be clueless and careless for most of his waking life but is arguably the one parent that genuinely listens. Hawke is simply wonderful as the charming ne’er-do-well, creating as multi-layered a portrait of flawed fatherhood as the one he so memorably brought to life in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

    Butterfield, Steinfeld and Hirsch are in fine fettle. Steinfeld and Hirsch, in particular, haven’t had roles this good in a long while and it’s heartening to watch them make full use of their talents. Beautifully realised performances, a strikingly nostalgic yet unsentimental screenplay, and assured direction combine to make Ten Thousand Saints a generally bittersweet and heartwarming film.

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