A review of “Ten Thousand Saints,” a drama about coping with loss, based on a novel by Eleanor Henderson and starring Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
For a movie with extremely loud punk-rock music at its core, “Ten Thousand Saints” is a pleasantly low-key experience; it’s a small-scale character drama about learning to live with loss. At its heart are three teens. Jude (Asa Butterfield, peering out, in the early scenes, behind a straggling lock of hair like it’s a prison bar), bored and dissatisfied, spends his time devising ways to get high in 1980s small-town Vermont. Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld) is a wealthy New York City teen whose path crosses with Jude’s because his estranged father is her socialite mother’s drug dealer/boyfriend. And sweet-faced Teddy (Avian Jogia), Jude’s best friend, completes the triangle — both in his presence and, early on in the film, his absence.
Those who die, says a minister early in the film, “are surrounded by 10,000 saints”; this film, based on a novel by Eleanor Henderson, follows not saints but the flawed people left to go on. And while the teens are the focus of the story, their complicated parents steal much of the attention. Ethan Hawke, doing a variant on his not-quite-present dad in “Boyhood,” plays Jude’s father with a slick, well-nurtured charm. Emily Mortimer, brittle and funny, brings a zingy twist to Eliza’s mother (you’ll love the way she pronounces “vegan”). And Julianne Nicholson, in the underwritten role of Jude’s mother Harriet, lets you see, in her character’s quiet disappointment almost covered by a blanket of optimism, a story that might have been told.
There’s not much in “Ten Thousand Saints” that hasn’t been explored in numerous other coming-of-age dramas, but writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini find a real sense of place in both quiet, chilly Vermont and the punk-music scene of New York’s then-tumultuous East Village. And the film’s gentle conclusion brings moments of unexpected poetry. No one here is particularly saintly, but they do seem like people you might know; you leave the film wishing them well.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Ten Thousand Saints,’ with Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson, Emile Hirsch. Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, based on the novel by Eleanor Henderson. 104 minutes. Rated R for drug use involving teens, and language including sexual references. Sundance (21+).