SXSW Review: Grow Up, Tony Phillips


[From March 9th – 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

It’s not that growing up can be hard to do, but the notion of letting go of things we used to love and cherish is what usually holds people back. For some young adolescents, time and sometimes friends pass them by a bit too quickly. Would that make you hold on tighter to that which you love, or would it make you resent everything you used to believe in?

Trailer: Grow Up, Tony Phillips

Grow Up, Tony Phillips
Director: Emily Hagins
Rating: N/A
Release Date: March 12, 2013 (SXSW)

Tony (Tony Vespe) is a high school senior who spends the entire year planning for his favorite holiday: Halloween. Unfortunately, not many people share his enthusiasm for elaborate costumes and trick or treating, including his best friends Elle (Katie Folger) and Craig (Devin Bonnee). When Tony’s older cousin/role model, Pete (AJ Bowen), comes to stay with him, he begins to slowly realize that, maybe, he really is stalling his growth.

Grow Up, Tony Phillips isn’t so much a “coming-of age” film as it is a “becoming comfortable with yourself” film. With any narrative film, Tony and his friends follow character arcs, but what separates GUTP from other similar films is that, while there is a change in Tony’s nature, it’s not because of some large, life-affirming event. Rather, it’s his acceptance and comfort in his obsession that allows him to grow.

Vespe’s performance as the nerdy Tony Phillips is very Napoleon Dynamite-esque, while also not being as extreme as the cult (Is Napoleon Dynamite even considered a cult film?) figure. It’d be nice to see films portraying nerds to move away from the Dynamite character, whether physically or characteristically, no matter how coincidental the actors’ appearance may be with Jon Heder’s character. Other archetypal characters are present: the older role model figure who shouldn’t be a role model, the popular best friend who’s outgrowing the friendship, and the female best friend serving as both the buffer between the two friends, as well as the potential love interest.

Hagins is an extremely young director, with Grow Up, Tony Phillips being her fourth feature film. There are a few bumps throughout the film, but her talent is very, very apparent. She already has a few accolades to her name, but I’m confident that her name and reputation will grow within independent circles in a couple of years. Praise also goes to the costume designers, Allison Murphy and Misty Tavarez. A lot of thought went behind the designs for Tony’s costumes while still being believable as a DIY costume any high school senior would be capable of making.

Grow Up, Tony Phillips doesn’t flip the script when it comes to independent comedies. However, that’s not to say that it’s not an entertaining, pleasurable film; it just won’t separate itself from other films in the similar vein. As I mentioned earlier, Emily Hagins is a writer/director to watch over the next few years; while Grow Up, Tony Phillips won’t blow audience’s minds, enough is present to understand just how big Hagins and crew can become.