[Jim Thorpe Independent Film Festival] How You Think You Look When You Play Nerf (2017) - Reviewed

Nerf screened at JTIFF

When a twenty-one year old filmmaker writes, directs and produces his first feature, you may be forgiven for expecting something relatively self-serving. That idealistic glaze brushed over some angst ridden teenage art house piece. Finding himself, whilst lying in a field with over-sized headphones on listening to The Smiths. As we are subject to a barrage of indulgent overhead drone shots to capture his feelings of isolation. We've all been there.

How you think you look when you play Nerf, is the antidote for all angst ridden teens out there, who have forgotten what it is like just to enjoy being a kid. Wilder Troxell could very well win hearts and minds in this current climate of nostalgic pop-culture romance. He climbs down from the tree-house armed only with a Nerf gun and mud stained trousers in this endearing comedic offering. But he wants to preface this film with the thought that he doesn't want to change the world, he wants to help other people believe that they can.

“I would love to inspire the people who want to change the world. I think I could do that. I can make people laugh, or try things they never thought they'd do or go places they've never gone.”

It feels as though we are riding along with Wilder as he embraces that challenge and takes a simple idea into the realm of infinite possibilities. The opening scene features an army general giving hand signals to his platoon. A few seconds later they are a man down as he is taken out by a sniper, who just happens to be wielding a Nerf gun. It then cuts to their real life nine-year old counterparts debating whether 'it still counts' if someone gets hit in the eye.

It feels like something very close to all of our hearts. The idea that as children in our minds we can climb mountains, defeat the enemy alliance with our mad weaponry and fighting skills. All before our mums call us in for dinner. And like those adventures we had as children, this film feels bigger than what it is.

They really did a lot with all they had to play with. Everything that was choreographed and lines that dropped for comedic effect came off effortlessly. Most of the humor was achieved by getting young adults to use the vocabulary of nine-year olds. And the brilliantly timed shift from imagination to reality. Which meant jumping from a tree was actually slowly sliding down from a set of bunk-beds. It is charmingly self deprecating. I was thinking of the witty repartee of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool and the tongue-in-cheek fight scenes with Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It was visually engaging from start to finish and the references and influences were definitely there to be picked up on.

What we see here is a young artist showcasing a lot of different abilities. This film taps into so many genres. Fantasy, action, comedy and a genuine young-adult-coming-of-age story that I feel carries some heavier subtext. The relationship arc that develops between the character we follow and his brother, was quietly and surprisingly moving. I suddenly remembered Andy from Toy Story, outgrowing his old friends and waving goodbye to his childhood in the process. These scenes and the writing throughout felt very in tune with a generation struggling to hold onto the innocence of youth. In our modern society where we now see children with iPhones where there used to be a set of coloring pencils and after school bike rides.

This film allowed me a care-free hour or two of embracing silliness and a refreshing light-hearted approach to filmmaking. I am excited to see what adventure young Wilder will embark upon next as he looks out on the world as his playground, with the thought that he is here only to show others the fun they can have by doing the same. 

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-Erin Ring