We the Animals review – one of the discoveries of the year

A young boy sees his family financially struggle while grappling with his sexuality in an outstanding coming-of-age drama

There is a diaphanous beauty to this striking US indie; an impressionistic, free-spirited, skittish quality that belies the weight of the themes that it explores. A coming-of-age picture, viewed through the eyes of the youngest of three semi-feral brothers running wild in rural, up-state New York, We the Animals handles the queer sexual awakening of 10-year-old Jonah (Evan Rosado) with sensitivity and candour. It also delicately dances around the black and white of an abusive relationship. Like the three children, the film, based on a novel by Justin Torres, prefers the neutrality of the grey areas and the benefit of the doubt that acknowledges that good people, beaten down by circumstances, sometimes do bad things.

The circumstances are undeniably tough. Both parents, Paps (Raúl Castillo) and Ma (Sheila Vand), are caught on a minimum wage treadmill that leaves bodies beaten and tempers frayed. There’s love between them: the suave, impulsive Puerto Rican father, the sensual, volatile white mother and the three boys who tumble like unruly pups around the woodlands and meadows that surround their modest home. But there’s a sense of running, full pelt, just to stay in the same place. “We’re never going to escape this. Not us, not them.” The loss of yet another job deflates Paps’s habitual swagger.

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