If that subhead made your skin crawl, please know that it really shouldn't. In the release of "The Fallout," first-time director Megan Park crafts a film that understands teenage angst even in the direst circumstances. Our protagonist Vada (Jenna Ortega), is forced to navigate the aftermath of a brutal tragedy and its effects on all of those around her. It sounds like a meat and potatoes premise of a teenager growing up in today's technological society. There are many ideas about the teenage experience on display here, but they're seamlessly interwoven throughout. In no small part, that's due to the brilliant performance of our lead actress Jenna Ortega.
In the film, Ortega has a tough role to walk in, being someone who's forced to hide how she feels. This includes hiding it from her best friend Chris (Will Ropp) and even her family (John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, Lumi Pollack). However, she comes close to a fellow survivor, the popular girl Mia (Maddie Ziegler), and her world opens up. It's a great arc for the character who has moments of great levity but just as much pain that's stewing beneath the surface. She takes the high school "every girl" role and makes a character that feels incredibly humanized. Seeing the walls around her slowly start to fall makes the film rather rewarding. Much of the weight of the film comes through the themes Park is trying to convey.
Here we see a story about coping, told through the lens of someone who's trying to find herself after a tragedy by taking drugs or having her first kiss. On paper, they're moments that just about every teenage drama or comedy has tried. We've never really had a chance to see it told with a more dramatic license in those films. Some may consider it to be manipulative, but Park wisely handles the film as a way to get in the mind of these teens. With the constant conversations happening via text messages and detailed music by Juice Wrld, we learn what everyone's feeling without anyone saying it.
The cliche of "show us, don't tell us" amply applies here because too much explaining lessens the impact. When we're watching Mia and Vada simply talking or watching TLC, their faces and reactions say it all. Unfortunately, that subtlety could also be your biggest detriment to the enjoyment you could have. I bring this up because the movie's point takes some time to be presented to the audience. Being only 95 minutes long, the film builds the drama and, once it happens, lets us as an audience stew on it. Some moments could make you feel uncomfortable, but that's the goal. If you're ready for that sort of thing, then you'll get what you want out of it.
"The Fallout" is one of the more surprising films I've seen in 2021 thus far. Looking at a tragedy through a teenage lens—if you haven't experienced a tragedy yourself—makes you see things differently. Being a teenager, with your ability to express growing and changing, your ability to process things might not be very healthy. Here both Park and Ortega acknowledge this and make a film that will make you both think and feel. There's a balancing act of working through a tragedy and realizing they don't end when you've healed. Such a painful honesty can be hard to stomach, but that's what makes "The Fallout" that much more effective. Whenever it releases, if you're ready for it, it will definitely be something worth your time.