Starring: Matthew Frias, Edmund Donovan, Joseph Melendez, Andrea Burns, Amy da Luz
Directors: Sasha King, Brian O'Donnell
Akron has found its way to a UK release this week. Exploring the relationship between two young men who meet at college, this is actually a film about grief and what happens when it lies dormant without being dealt with. Set in Akron, Ohio, it is a film in which its protagonists’ sexual orientation is incremental, casting it as just an irrelevant detail in lieu of much more pressing concerns.
Benny (Frias) meets Christopher (Donovan) at a football game and the two hit it off instantly. Spending all their time together, they soon decide to spend spring break together with Christopher’s mother in Florida, but as they are leaving, Benny’s mother (Burns) reveals that she had an older son who was knocked over and killed in a car park fifteen years before. Though he was very young at the time, Christopher remembers immediately that it was his own mother who was driving the car. Without thinking of the consequences, he doesn’t tell Benny the truth and allows him to meet his mother (da Luz), who quickly works out who he is.
Initially, this plays as a very sweet love story between two lithe young men. Frias and Donovan have real chemistry on screen, which hooks us into their story that might otherwise have fallen a little flat. The first half of the film, in which the secrets they are concealing from each other are very slowly revealed, comes off as somewhat creaky; like an ode to Greek Theatre, relying a lot on coincidence and suspension of disbelief. With Christopher’s mother having moved to Florida to get away from her past, it seems somewhat peculiar that of all the places her son could have gone to university, she would have allowed him to return to Akron. And why did Christopher not recognise Benny’s mother’s name?
In naming the film Akron, it places considerable significance onto the place in which the film is set. But unlike many other similarly titled films (Manhattan, Nebraska, Brokeback Mountain), we get very little sense of what this location is like, or what its importance is to the film. Of course, the location of the accident of fifteen years ago is important, but it could have happened anywhere and still been exactly the same movie.
Neither set of parents bat an eyelid at their sons’ sexuality, which is of course refreshing to see. Conflict-free on that front, we are able to fully explore the moral question at the film’s centre: would you ever be able to forgive the family that killed your son? But just at the moment that question is finally fired directly at Benny’s mother, it limps somewhat lethargically into a half-hearted anticlimax. Though the characters all participate in a lot of brow-beating – Frias and Burns contribute the film’s best sad-faces, almost emoji-like – it doesn’t quite feel like any of the characters are feeling what they claim to be feeling.
Throughout the film, despite all the angst and pain Benny and Christopher experience, neither seems to have any adverse effects of this experience on the rest of their lives. They are well-behaved, polite, well-presented and focused to a point, which almost makes them seem sub-human. Similarly, they are both impossibly good-looking, which together with their almost robot-like reactions makes them a little unrelatable. However, what we do have in Akron is a sweet story of two boys falling in love. Had the film focused more on this than its somewhat melodramatic attempt at a grand plot, then it would probably have been a more compelling film all round. As a result, we see some beautiful people in a dreary town doing a lot of acting, but without actually immersing us in any semblance of authenticity. Entertaining though it is, it tries to be Winter’s Bone but has ended up Hope Floats.