Director Antonio Mendez-Esparza’s Life and Nothing More is a minimalist portrait of mother-and-son strife, but that emotional center is contextualized by a larger exploration of the complexities of a Trump-era cultural landscape. The film delivers mixed results in its use of non-professional actors, particularly the lead duo. Regina Williams delivers an immensely affecting performance as a mother vacillating between angry resignation and hopeful determination regarding the future of her increasingly trouble-prone son (Andrew Bleechington). But her authenticity feels undermined by the hollowness of Bleechington’s Andrew, a few candid scenes with friends providing the only dimension to an otherwise blandly-written character.
Still, Life is a film of both great feeling and provocative intellectual considerations, and Mendez-Esparza navigates these with a subtlety that actually enhances the film’s impact; he builds his film from hurt and hope, and no moment feels calculated or manipulative. Even Life’s climactic scene feels thankfully small by any cinematic measure – no swelling music or narrative twist, a decision that is representative of so many small moments here that tremble with the painful reality of America’s grand tradition of inequity.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.