Florida Film Festival: Lean on Pete (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

Lean on Pete (2017) was a film I missed at SXSW, and I thought I was going to miss at the Florida Film Festival…but I managed to just squeak into its screening. While the film features a solid cast and a compelling story, it also features a series of soul-crushing moments, making it a tough watch. It still manages to be a great movie despite the constant anxiety and sadness it elicits from its audience.

Lean on Pete is a well-crafted film and a great showcase for a young talent in Charlie Plummer

Charlie (Charlie Plummer) lives with his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), and tries to be a normal high school kid, despite being in a new town. He finds an opportunity for work at the nearby horse track when Del (Steve Buscemi) asks for a hand changing a tire. Here, Charlie meets Lean on Pete, a quarter horse that he helps Del take care of. One terrible thing happens after another, forcing Charlie to seek out his Aunt Margy (Alison Elliott), who he hasn’t seen for a few years.

Plummer shines in this film. His performance is inspiring at times, heartbreaking at others, and all-in-all terrific. He is able to work off Buscemi’s brashness, Chloë Sevigny’s kind-hearted bluntness, Steve Zahn’s zaniness, and Fimmel’s immature father figure roles expertly. Then there are moments where it is just Charlie and Pete, and his internal narration becomes monologues as he tells Pete, and the audience, about his life and his feelings. The moments are powerful but – to emphasize this point again – heartbreaking. Plummer is able to pull off this complex character like a veteran.

There are a lot of tough scenes in this film, and most of them emphasize Charlie’s weakness. He has a bad habit of being loyal and loving people who will ultimately hurt him in some way. They aren’t always bad people, and sometimes it’s circumstances that cause Charlie’s pain, but his refusal to see the signs are a major cause of his own heartache. It’s a tough road to learn this lesson, and life isn’t kind about it. Most of his problems stem from his father, who is loving enough in the scenes we see, but too immature. They’ve moved around a lot and are clearly struggling financially. He is introduced after we meet his new female companion, who is very kind to Charlie and even makes them a delicious breakfast, but it’s revealed that she is married. This choice to sleep with a married woman has great consequences for both the father and Charlie.

Final thoughts…

It would be challenging to discuss this film much further without getting into spoilers. However, it’s definitely one that is worth checking out if you don’t mind feeling down for large portions of the film. On the bright side, there is some relief at the end, so the audience can walk out with a bit of the weight lifted off their shoulders. Lean on Pete earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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