For our Free-For-All film festival month, I’ll recommend films from drastically different genres and sides of cinema. This week’s recommendation is one of my favorite movies of the year so far and one of the most experimental films I’ve ever seen. It is also entirely made by high schoolers.
I heard of Therapy Dogs when it won the ABGO Fellowship Award at Slamdance last year. The trailer was intriguing to me; a documentary(?) about modern-day teenagehood, post-graduation ennui, and high school in the age of social media and constant communication. Every headline tells you the world’s ending while you’re just trying to find out if your friends are free this weekend.
Instead, this movie is a blurred line between narrative vignettes and experimental documentaries, akin to Streetwise and My Own Private Idaho. I could never tell what was made for the camera and what they captured naturally. These sequences of teenage immaturity can sometimes be highly comedic, yet there are moments in this film that are emotionally raw.
For example (possible spoilers for the movie), there’s a sequence twenty minutes into the film titled “A TRIP THROUGH TIME.” Director Ethan Eng narrates how he’s “been obsessed with this dead kid lately.” A teenager who went to Ethan’s high school in 2007, and died by suicide the day before graduating. On his memorial was a video camera filled with archive footage of the high school in 2007. The school production of Our Town, the prom, and random teenage antics. You can’t help but think while you look at the footage, “Where are these kids now?”. They must be around their mid-thirties; I imagine high school feels like a previous life to them now. Yet it looks the same as the footage Ethan captures of modern-day high school and teenagehood. The connection Ethan makes between the archive footage and his is evident, yet he barely has to try for it to make sense. The idea that teenagers now are living the millennials’ distant memories makes the feelings they have now seem inevitable, and meaningless. They’re lamenting the end of a life they were destined to lose.
I’ve never seen a film depict modern-day late teenagehood more accurately, probably because there’s so much truth in this film. There are high school parties, teenage antics, real(?) arguments between friends, and an overall sense of unsure aimlessness. I can understand if you’re not of a similar age demographic; this movie will be isolating and a little shocking to you. As somebody who graduated only a year after the subjects of this film graduated, it heavily connected with me and will undoubtedly be on my best films list by the end of the year.
You can watch Therapy Dogs now on VOD.