Above all else, Andrew Haigh has proven himself a deeply empathic artist; whether tackling 21st century queer identity (Looking, Weekend) or the devolution of a decades-long relationship (45 Years), he revels in micro details as a means to inform macro cultural ideations. With Lean on Pete, it’s clear Haigh is working with a much broader canvas than ever before: there is an expansiveness of story here that feels a bit mismatched for the director’s sensibilities, and the narrative beats reflect a hurried adaptation of the source novel. Yet, despite the protracted nature of this material – which involves the young, poverty-stricken Portlandian Charley (Charlie Plummer) and his companionship with the titular, over-the-hill racehorse – the director manages to stay in his own lane as much as he’s able.
A particular standout sequence finds Charley’s father (Travis Fimmel) synecdochically apologizing that he only has a few dollars to give his son while he’s out of town, a moment that absolutely wrecks you with its unassuming authenticity. This is cause for frustration, then, as the film’s final third abandons these minor devastations in favor histrionic tics, a la The Diary of a Teenage Girl. There’s no denying that Haigh’s latest may meet harsher criticism than is entirely fair thanks to the blossoming talent he’s so recently evinced, but even as Lean on Pete proves sometimes affecting, for any director it’s little more than a faltering, diversion.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.