West Michigan  Review – Brother-Sister road-trip hits familiar beats
Sibling relationships can be extremely complex. The fact that two people spend a good chunk of their lives and still find it difficult to communicate is a mystery that no one will understand. Riley Warmouth directs and co-stars with sister Chloe Warmouth in his directorial debut “West Michigan” – a film that is both a tribute to the state they grew up in and an intimate look at a relationship that is often taken for granted.
The film opens with Hannah (Chloe) sitting on a toilet seat. According to her brother Charlie (Riley), she has been there for a couple of hours. The book in her hand hints that it’s reading that she must have been on about. However, the scissors in her other hand tell us otherwise.
Soon after, Charlie receives a call from his mother telling him about their grandfather’s illness. He tells Chloe about the same, announcing that they should drive all the way there before it’s too late for them to meet him. The two siblings argue briefly about the part that both of them are not equally sad about their grandfather breathing his last breathes.
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Director Riley Warmouth instantly establishes the dynamics between his two leads. The brother and sisters are both people who seem to be poles apart in their thinking, and yet something between them feels quite similar. They are both served as characters who have a pretty superficial worldview, but a part of them is pretty proud of it. There’s a sequence where Charlie complains about a plastic bottle hampering the environment but then he drinks from the same one on being pressurized. The entire film is punctuated by lighter moments like these which help keep things light and warm.
Actually, warmth oozes out of this film that basically centers around Chloe’s teenage angst and her quest to find herself. I like how the film deals with mental health without making a mess out of it like most low-budget indies. We never get to know the reason for Chloe’s depression or her trying to kill herself. For answers, we can just hint towards her obsession with Salinger or an ex-boyfriend that is just not letting her be, but those are just answers we as viewers want to find.
Charlie is treated as a really warm shoulder that Chloe can latch onto. Basically, this is a film about communication and rebellion. The conflict in the film is an internal one and the very idea that the girl isn’t able to tell everything that she is feeling to her closest confidant makes the story more real than it actually can be.
As a director, Warmouth’s effort is commendable. After spending 4 years in LA, going back to his home state, moreover carving a simplistic tribute to it gives his film an intimate, personal feeling. While he struggles with the tone of the film – which tries really hard to be a typical quirky indie, he finds relief in the fact that the coming-of-age arc doesn’t overstretch its welcome.
The brother and sister have good chemistry between them, in spite of not being great actors by any stretch. This further helps the film from the cliches that it often finds itself in. Overall making West Michigan a gentle film about being around people we find hard to communicate with. I mean, all of us have been there. All of us have had a hard time telling a close one how we actually deal with the many things in our heads. The film just presents that idea as it is. Letting us soak in the sibling dynamic to have a journey with them.
West Michigan Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes