For a movie literally named after a Nirvana track, you won't find a lot of Nirvana music in director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's Sundance Award-winning drama, As You Are. Considering its Nirvana and the death of Kurt Cobain that severely affects the trajectory of three misfit teens in a small rural town, the effect is somewhat jarring, made worse by the non-descript score we're subjected to. But that's just one major hurdle for a labored murder mystery that plays at emotional authenticity on subjects such as bullying and repressed homosexuality, however its reliance on a cheap murder mystery plot reveals its true aims.
The gangly and doe-eyed Jack (Owen Campbell) meets and quickly befriends Mark (Stranger Things' Charlie Heaton) when Mark's rugged but seemingly nice father (Scott Cohen) begins dating Jack's mother (Mary Stuart Masterson, always a welcome presence). Normally the situation turns out different, but the boys bond over their love of music, specifically Nirvana, and the occasional toke of the blunt. They also find common ground in the general crappiness of their placement on the high school pecking order. While Mark may seem like a tough, confident kid, he gets bullied by bigger students just as much as Jack. Neither one can stand how phony everyone around them is, which makes their reliance on one another an oasis from all of their problems. Eventually they hook up, both literally and figuratively, with the pretty and like-minded Sarah (The Hunger Games' Amandla Stenberg). The trio form a strange sort of love triangle, but one where it seems Sarah is meant to dull the obvious attraction between Mark and Jack, who aren't ready to embrace that part of their identity just yet.
What follows is a Kings of Summer-esque series of montages where the outcasts regale in the freedom their friendship affords. We see them diving off cliff faces into shimmering pools, smoking weed and, ominously, learning to fire guns. Ominous because the movie begins in flash-forward with the haunting image of Mark and Jack walking deep into the forest, followed by the sound of gunshots. From there, scenes of the town's residents answering questions at a police station dominate, which puts us at a distance from the bond between the central characters. We're left to nit-pick over every statement, every action, as a clue to the violence we know is coming; when we should be left to ponder over the forces that brought these outsiders together. The film is at its undeniable best as the confused trio experience the wonders of youth together, argue over music (There are some legitimately great and genuine conversations they have on bands.), and try to figure out where they fit in this world. Ironically, As You Are isn't confident enough to just be what it is without compromise. I'm not sure Kurt Cobain would approve.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5