Artistically effective, Hide Your Smiling Faces has many merits.
Including the two actors at its forefront, Ryan Jones (Tommy) and Nathan Varnson (Eric). Both young men are admirably understated.
Many of writer/director Daniel Patrick Carbone’s decisions are just as strong. With his always carefully placed lens and methodical pacing, Carbone makes us feel adolescence: the boredom, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the mischievousness, the misdirected emotion, and the need for rebellion.
Therein is why we understand the lead characters. Even without expository dialogue, we know why Tommy (Jones) carries his dog, Daisy, to the riverbank. Just as we know why Eric (Varnson) punches Tristan (Thomas Cruz).
In other words, Eric and Tommy are well-developed, but through visuals and subtle action, not dialogue. This is the film’s greatest strength.
Hide Your Smiling Faces’ secondary characters, however, are not as well developed. We do not understand Tristan, really, much less the adults, who are so peripheral as to be senseless. For example, during a family dinner, Mother (Christina Starbuck) explodes at Eric, almost without provocation. And then we never see her again.
Perhaps Carbone ignores adult characters to preserve adolescent point of view, but he goes too far. Contrast his approach with Jeff Nichols’ in Mud (2013), a film with equally strong adolescent perspective but also sufficiently-developed adult characters.
Equally problematically, Hide Your Smiling Faces ends too abruptly, without resolving its myriad conflicts or advancing its characters. There is no coming of age here; there is only struggle.
Which might be why the film is lite on theme.
Something that is especially disappointing given how skillfully Carbone focuses on the cycle of life and death. From the opening shot when a snake slowly swallows its prey, to Eric’s grief upon discovering tragedy, to Tommy’s eulogy for a raccoon, to the gun that looms over the picture, the director makes us anticipate powerful thematic content.
Just as he makes us appreciate the many striking visuals he captures with wide angle photography. Hide Your Smiling Faces is truly beautiful.
But, courtesy of abrupt resolution that fails to deliver promised thematic catharsis, it is not as emotionally powerful as it hopes to be.