The coming-of-age genre is a tried and true way to illustrate the uncertainty of the future and the perks of hindsight, but when an opportunity presents itself to take heed of what is to come, sometimes even surprises can feel a bit predictable.
In her sophomore feature and first film at Sundance, Megan Park’s “My Old Ass” blends the YA journey with elements of sci-fi fantasy through fresh-faced 18-year-old Elliott (Maisy Stella) as she rings in adulthood by coming face-to-face with her 39-year-old self (Aubrey Plaza).
“My Old Ass” begins and sustains a level of authenticity, specifically with the dynamics between Elliott and her two friends, Ro (Kerrice Brooks) and Ruthie (Maddie Ziegler), as well as her two brothers, Max (Seth Isaac Johnson) and Spencer (Carter Trozzolo). Stella brings a refreshing and realistic portrayal of a queer girl who is quick to charm the cute cashier and ignore her mom’s phone calls in favor of a good time.
After a ceremonious mushroom excursion in the woods, Plaza greets Stella with a smooth reflection of a teenager’s barbed edges, caught off guard by her younger self’s spitfire attitude. It’s a sharp scene and a great introduction that leaves us missing the two’s physical chemistry once the night ends. They continue to talk over the phone, but the magical exchange in the woods does not end until older Elliott leaves her young self with at least one piece of specific advice: stay away from a guy named Chad.
Over their calls, older Elliot counsels herself, encouraging younger Elliott to bond more with her family before leaving for college in two weeks. The central narrative arises when young Elliott meets another boy from the area who is, of course, named Chad.
“My Old Ass” oscillates between a story about family and romance, hitting the typical marks of a girl learning gratitude before her life changes. Park creates a genuine tenderness that Stella beautifully captures, but the narrative itself paints a habitual tale of retrospect and the enlightenment of being in the present.
That being said, the most unexpected turn “My Old Ass” takes is its most stirring: it is a story about understanding one’s own queerness. Elliott is first introduced as attracted to women, and it is not until later in the film, after older Elliott has stopped returning her calls and younger Elliott becomes closer to Chad, that she offers her present-day perspective of this relationship: she thought she was a lesbian.
This confession poses a new layer to her character’s hesitancy, one that could have easily been overlooked had Park not written the intimate scene between Elliott and Ro, who is also queer, as they reiterate that labels are not an end-all-be-all.
While some of the futuristic comedy revealing the absurd things lost over time falls a bit flat, there is one hallucinogenic music sequence that takes the cake for gender-bending hilarity and creativity, and though Park’s dedication to referring to the modern-day runs the risk of dating the film, it is fitting and effective.
Being young and dumb is something most can understand and “My Old Ass” and its magnetic cast succeed in edifying that moment in time just before it passes.
“My Old Ass” is a sales title at Sundance.
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