Who else has seen the trailers for The Fallout on YouTube? Well, some of them are more like clips, really, and they’re kind of mystifying sans context. The first one I saw has a teenaged girl visiting another teenaged girl. It looks completely casual, except that one girl offers the other a hefty glass of red wine. In the other clip these two girls are sacked out on the couch with apparent food comas. The third one showed one of the girls at a trauma counseling session with a therapist.
Huh. Mmmmkay. There are only two reasons to promote a film this way–either people are really anticipating it and no one wants spoilers, or it stinks to high heaven. It also begs the question: What the heck is The Fallout about?
Simply put, it’s about a school shooting.
Vada (Jenna Ortega) is bit of a slob and she knows it. She falls asleep in the bathroom while brushing her teeth, foam dripping from her mouth. She gets peanut butter all over the table while spreading it on her toast. That she makes it out of the house with her hair combed seems to be a miracle.
When Vada’s sister, Amelia (Lumi Pollack) calls her during class, Vada ducks into a restroom, and after hanging up she runs into Mia (Maddie Ziegler), who’s busy applying highlighter to all the right places for Picture Day. Mia is Vada’s polar opposite–she’s a dancer raised by artist parents who are often in Europe on business. She’s got it all together, or at least she seems to.
To their horror, Vada and Mia hear gunshots and dash into a stall, where they crouch on the toilet. A guy, Quinton (Niles Fitch) joins them, covered in blood. He just saw his brother shot. The three of them stay in the stalls trembling as police approach the school.
From there the characters are left to deal with the aftermath. Mia and Vada bond over Instagram and then start hanging out. Quinton also becomes Vada’s good friend. Suffice it to say, everyone handles grief in their own way and on their own timetable. Relationships alter. Some people drink and do drugs. Some make out (or beyond) with their friends of either sex. Some yell at the sky. Some do all of the above. The ironic thing is that the characters who were closest to the danger are the ones who adjust to their new normal faster, probably because proximity forced them to deal with their trauma sooner.
What I liked about this movie is that it didn’t get overly political or point too many fingers. Some of the characters become activists, but the specifics aren’t stated and the news most often gets turned off while the characters roll their eyes or look bored. In fact, the shooting itself isn’t explored in detail; the closest the movie comes is Vada putting funeral programs in a box and shutting the lid, only briefly showing us names and faces. Everything is kept low-key and focused on the living characters.
The movie is also very realistic in that it shows these characters interacting on social media in lieu of calling each other even though they all have phones (The favorite platform is Instagram, who clearly sponsored this thing). They only let their guard down with each other because of their shared experiences. Family is left out, although temporarily, and each person has to deal with their own demons. Survivor’s guilt is a thing. Figuring out the reasons for survival isn’t. The characters acknowledge that life is confusing and that they’re scared to leave their rooms or go back to school.
The acting is very well done, especially Jenna Ortega, who carries the lion’s share of the film. Her chemistry with Maddie Ziegler and Niles Fitch is almost too good–it’s easy to believe their characters are navigating grief together and feel comfortable with each other. Director Megan Park is an actress herself and really understood how to inspire honest performances from her cast.
What I didn’t like is that the film tries so hard to be current that it kills its message with trendiness. Characters talk like they’re on social media even when they aren’t–some of them even say, “LOL” in casual conversation, which sounds really pretentious and will date the film before too long.
Plus everything drags. We don’t need to see montage after montage of Vada and Mia knocking back more drinks and lurching around drunk. It’s just padding. Half of these interludes could have been cut out and the movie would have been none the worse for it.
Also, it felt like the movie was ticking off elements because culture expects people to react in certain ways. Grieving teenagers should drink deep glasses of wine and toke up. Vada’s relationships with Mia and Quinton are supposed to turn sexual because kids today are expected to be very aware of themselves that way. For example, Seventeen is way more explicit nowadays than when I was in high school, and Teen Vogue, while poorly received by its target audience, is repulsively jaded and controversial.
I think the reason all of this was such a turnoff for me is that it eliminates the nuances of grief. Not everyone handles trauma the way the movie portrays; all one has to do is look at the way real-life school shooting victims recover to see the contrast (Columbine, among others, is a really good example). Everyone comes out changed forever, but not everyone dives into vice. Faith is completely cut out of the movie as well. None of the characters in The Fallout seem to believe in God or struggle with belief in any way, which makes everything empty and pointless and the finale deflating.
In the end, the only things the movie is really good for are character study and starting conversations, but as a film, it will likely be forgotten. I get what everyone was going for and I respect the effort, but I was glad when Fallout‘s ending credits rolled and probably won’t revisit it.
Another post is on the way tomorrow. As always, thanks for reading, everyone…
The Fallout is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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