The title of the film Sleeping Giant refers to a piece of land sitting by Lake Superior, a beautiful locale of high ridges, green thickets and peaceful waters. These images haunt the film’s opening moments, but before we can truly appreciate the scenery, the film cuts to our three central characters. Of the three, there are two cousins, Nate and Riley (played by real life cousins Nick Serino and Reece Moffett), and a friend, Adam (Jackson Martin). The film immediately distinguishes between the three youths, setting them for a course they’re destined to play out. Nate easily stands out, he is the smallest but also the most vocal and abusive of the trio. In the opposite spectrum is his cousin, Adam, who is shy and observant. Riley, not related to them, has the most three-dimensional role of trying to balance his allure of Adam’s quaint, homely lifestyle and Nate’s rowdy, trouble-making shenanigans. What immediately surprises me is how spontaneous the conflict between the three of young men feel, while at the same time sustaining as tact and insight.
All of us can relate to bad memories of our youth, Sleeping Giant gives us that kind of memory the sort of gloss and flashiness you’d find in music videos; the imagery is never mistreated or used to excess by first time director Andrew Cividino. He allows us to experience several things at once, from a heightened sexual awareness of a young man, to acts of rebellion against prolonged apathy. Nate, the wild card, offers the kind of innate hubris that comes with being a kid, introduced in the opening scene as he plays on an undersized swing-set that looks as it could collapse at any second. This perfectly sets him up for the rest of the film, his childish enterprises seem destined to come around and bite him on the ass at any moment. Nate and his cousin Riley, less of a wild card, are loose cannons, the kind of kids that your parents hated seeing you with. Adam on the other hand is dormant, someone Nate easily imposes his influence (and aggression) upon. He uses his charisma to intimidate and verbally abuse Adam. From that description alone Nate may seem like he’s too much to endure, but I can also confide that he is also one of the most genuinely funny characters in the film.
Perhaps what Sleeping Giant captures best are the truly disappointing revelations a teenager has growing up, ones that can profoundly alter our glowing perception of adulthood. In a quirky subplot, Adam discovers from Nate and Riley that his father has been having an affair with a local woman, who works at a fish market. We see how this disillusions Adam, how much more complicated his sexual identity becomes and how unappealing adulthood now looks to him. While he nailed Adam’s psychology, it’s unfortunate that Cividino never really gives us something compelling between the teen and his father. None of the problems that should arise are never really explored; very little guilt is expressed by the father and almost no resentment from the son is even implied, after the initial confrontation. Not long after being introduced, the entire subplot seems only to amount to screwball fodder.
It’s funny how the characters Cidivino gives us, the kind that steal beer from local convenience stores, egg random houses and are the very definition of “white-trash,” can come across as tragically understated. Nate, despite his confidence, is almost naive in his idealism of youthful integrity. Particularly troubling is how he idolizes a local drug dealer, whose only accomplishment consists of jumping off a high cliff into Lake Superior, something that could have easily killed him. Nate refers to the man-child as a “legend.” It begs the question as to whether Nate finds this man-child truly admirable, or even if he maybe considers his callow, carefree approach to life appealing to his own childlike sensibilities and overall refusal to grow up. Whatever the reasoning, it’s clear that such a behavior comes at the price of Nate’s relationship with his cousin, Riley, who seems to gradually recede into the warmer intimacy of Adam’s family.
One of the truest but most unexplored elements of growing up is confusion, and not without reason. We have films about teen angst, depression, sadness, jealousy and sexuality, but what sort of narrative can one produce on confusion? It’s an unfilmable concept that is inexplicably conquered by Cidivino, whose complex vision is realized through bits and details, instead of big moments and forced conclusions. The film ends somberly with two characters staring into the dawning of adulthood, rather than the twilight of their childhoods. It’s a kind of subtly hopeful ending that’s honest and sad and relatively unexplored in this genre.