Director: Javier Reyna
Starring: Connor Williams, Natassia Halabi, Nova Gaver, Shon Dmario Evans, Jeff Harlow and Samantha Hodges
Delving into a life-changing event that they already have some experience with can still be both a harrowing and rewarding process. The powerful decision to embark on new adventures in a slightly familiar territory is a life-defining moment for not only first-time feature film writer-director-producer, Javier Reyna, but also up-and-coming lead actor, Connor Williams, and his troubled protagonist in the new, film festival award-winning coming-of-age drama, ‘Regionrat.’
After Reyna penned, helmed and produced several short movies, and Williams starred as supporting characters in short and feature films, the duo powerfully connected with the struggling lead character in ‘Regionrat,’ which is based on writer Richard Laskowski’s 2006 novel of the same name. The title adolescent character in the book and movie returns to his hometown in order to find the acceptance he so desperately craves amongst his childhood friends, but ultimately starts to realize that he may need to go back out on his own, in order to find his true identity and purpose in life.
‘Regionrat’ follows an unmotivated high school senior, Ray (Williams), who’s contending with the lasting effects of his parents’ divorce. Being one of six children, Ray is often neglected and overlooked by his parents, who decide to send him to live with one of his sisters in Seattle. After living in the Pacific Northwest for six months, he finally convinces his family to let him return to the title area in Indiana, which serves as his childhood hometown. His father, who’s now remarried and living in Florida, agrees to allow Ray to live on his own in his condo, and provides his son with money for his living expenses.
Once Ray settles back in with his former and new friends, including Erin (Natassia Halabi), Brian ‘the Brain’ (Shon Dmario Evans), Gabe (Jeff Harlow), Ricky (Rishi Das) and Milada (Samantha Hodges), Ray falls back into his less than motivated lifestyle. The group regularly skips class and smokes weed, and the friends don’t care much about their future. Ray’s problems escalate when his growing attraction to Erin draws ire from her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Along with the reckless behavior he routinely engages in with Gabe and Ricky, and the morally questions that the Brain and Milada raise about his lifestyle, Ray finally begins to ponder what he should really be doing with the rest of his life.
Reyna powerfully highlights the emotional struggles teens regularly face when they feel abandoned by their families in his captivating and riveting adaptation of Laskowski’s novel. ‘Regionrat’ provides an intelligent voice for high school students, like Ray, who recklessly act out against the troubled upbringing, in order to garner attention, even if it’s negative. The screenwriter-director thoughtfully embraces the true reasoning why adolescents routinely fall back into harrowing situations that have become all-too-familiar to them, as they don’t know how to contend with new and positive emotions.
Ray is the epitome of a relatable teen who subconsciously knows that the Brain and Milada are right to question his morals and actions, but he lacks the confidence to truly change his mindset and attitude. The conflicted protagonist is memorably portrayed by Williams in his career-defining, break-out role. The actor effortlessly embraces his character’s commanding swagger amongst his ppers in his school and neighborhood, despite his internal struggle to finally come to terms with not having a stable family life, and whether he truly has what it takes to pursue his dream of possibly becoming a writer.
‘Regionrat’ is a noteworthy film adaptation of a novel that stunningly exemplifies what it truly means to be a teenager who’s struggling with finding their true purpose amongst, as well as acceptance from, their peers and family. The drama is a standout moment for both Reyna, as a feature film writer and director, and Williams, as a lead actor, who both perfectly emphasize what it means to garner enough confidence to find real acceptance for who they genuinely are.
Reyna’s first feature film is a welcome rarity in the coming-of-age genre, as it realistically highlights how teens respond to not always being accepted for their authentic selves, by both their families and peers. ‘Regionrat’ will surely leave a heartfelt impact on not only how the independent filmmaking community should approach making teen-driven stories, but also on American society’s views on how to contend with seemingly defiant adolescents.