Frybread Face and Me (2023)

Frybread Face and Me (2023)

A gorgeous and tender coming-of-age addition to the Indigenous New Wave

The Very Best

8.0

Movie

United States of America
English, Navajo
Drama
2023
BILLY LUTHER
Charley Hogan, Jeremiah Bitsui, Kahara Hodges
82 min

TLDR

Confirmation, if any was needed, that there’s no more moving subject in cinema than the healing power of grandmothers.

What it's about

San Diego kid Billy (first-time actor Keir Tallman) connects with his roots and comes of age during an unforgettable summer spent with his family on a Navajo reservation.

The take

Frybread Face and Me is a little indie gem: though rough around the edges, it’s full of charm and heart. Drawn from its director's own childhood experiences, the movie charts a formative moment in the life of Benny, a city boy of Navajo, Hopi, and Laguna Pueblo heritage who’s carted off to his grandmother’s ranch on a Navajo reservation for a summer. It's suffused with all the specificity of real memories in a way that never distances us from it, only enfolding us closer into its nostalgic embrace. That effect largely comes from the tender bonds between Benny and his cousin Dawn (unsympathetically nicknamed Frybread Face and played by newcomer Charley Hogan), who acts as translator between him and their non-English-speaking grandmother (Sarah H. Natani, also a non-professional actor). Though he’s constantly berated by male family members for not being “masculine” enough, Benny finds unconditional acceptance from his grandmother and misfit camaraderie with Frybread, who also gives the film a dry comedic edge — a welcome touch in a usually saccharine genre. Ultimately, though, it’s the movie’s soft sweetness and intimate depths that are most distinctive: it’s so gently told, and with such genuine feeling behind it, that it’s impossible not to be swept away by its charms.

What stands out

Frybread Face and Me tells Benny’s story with a gentle hand, never conceding to overdramatic impulses; take, for example, the subtle treatment of his burgeoning awareness of his sexuality, which is implied rather than explicitly centered. Always intensely personal and yet never overplayed, the movie is able to fold in so much of Benny and Frybread’s inner lives this way. Fully and unabashedly immersed in the Diné culture from Benny’s semi-outsider perspective, this is a refreshing movie by definition, an effect that is only bolstered by the thoughtful, gentle rhythm at which it's told.

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