One of the highlights of Outfest 2016 in Los Angeles was the independent feature Miles, which won an Audience Award for Best U.S. Narrative.
Written and directed by Nathan Adloff, Miles is a largely autobiographical film set in 1999 about a gay high school senior (the very well-cast Tim Boardman) who is itching to kick the dust of the small Illinois town he grew up in off his shoes and head to Chicago for college.
The sudden death of Miles’ disconnected father Ron (a convincing Stephen Root) is the starting point for a series of complications that threaten his chances of leaving the town he feels has all but sucked the life out of his mother Pam (a wondrous Molly Shannon) and trapped her in an unhappy existence she’s come to merely tolerate. The fear of the same thing happening to him is his main drive to get the hell out.
When money that was set aside for him to attend college turns out to have been squandered by his father on an extramarital affair, Miles looks into a volleyball scholarship. Since his school doesn’t have a boys’ team, he convinces the coach of the girls’ team (a terrific Missi Pyle) to let him try out.
He makes the cut and helps drive a series of early wins, but opposition to his being on the team quickly mounts – turning his simple need for scholarship money into a campaign for progress and change.
Meanwhile, Pam adjusts to life as a widow, a woman scorned and a mother facing the pending departure of her growing son:
She starts to date a man she met at a grief group (Paul Reiser) – who turns out to be the superintendent of the school she teaches at. Their relationship gets even complicated when they wind up falling on opposite sides of Miles’ campaign to stay on the volleyball team.
She tracks down the side piece who owns the car her late husband bought with Miles’ college money and, in a humorous confrontation with the young woman’s mother, demands (to no avail) that the car be returned.
And the harder Miles pushes to get out of town, the harder she presses back to get him to consider staying at home a little longer to make enough money to go to Chicago outright after a year or so (although her greater concern could easily be about being left alone).
Though the film ends happily for Miles, it doesn’t do so in the way that Miles had wanted. And while a more cynical person would find parts of the happy ending a bit too 1980s family sitcom (many of which I still love), it’s ultimately a very satisfying one – particularly in how things end/begin for Pam. A more clear-cut ending for her would have been preferred, but the ambiguity actually works better given where she is in that point in her life and the open road of opportunity now available to her as a single woman of a certain age with a son away at college.
One of Miles greatest accomplishments is that it doesn’t pressure itself to be about a young gay kid living in small town America. We see glimpses of that, but there are plenty of other films that have and will continue to cover that ground. Miles is gay and we know it. His mother knows it. And the town knows it – whether they care or not. But that aspect of Miles’ life is actually very secondary to the film’s main thrust – so much so that outside of a few homophobic taunts, the only moments that speak directly to his sexuality are those where he is chatting on AOL Instant Messenger with a gay guy living in Chicago.
So there is no angst about being gay and not wanting anyone to know. There are no dramatic coming out scenes. There are no awkward or clumsy first forays into life as an out gay young man. There are no first kisses. And there are no hot sex scenes.
What there is is a great film that is more than worthy of your 90 minutes – and a budding writer/director to be on the lookout for.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Nathan Adloff