An American teenager struggles with trauma following a shooting at her high school, an unfortunate reality that too many people have had to face. Jenna Ortega, who many may know as young Jane in Jane The Virgin, stars in The Fallout alongside renowned dancer Maddie Ziegler and Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen. Written by actress Megan Park, who also makes her directorial debut, it feels reasonable to expect a fair amount of emotion going into the film. It just can’t be ignored how weighty the subject matter is and its relevance to modern society, specifically within the United States.
However, The Fallout doesn’t quite meet the mark in terms of eliciting emotional sentiments from the audience. The film lacks a refined story and on top of that, features performances that do feel awkward and unnatural at times. With a narrative as realistic as this, a carefully crafted screenplay is necessary, one that would fully allow viewers to empathize with the characters and events at hand. On the contrary, The Fallout feels significantly rushed to the point where it lacks much-needed layers of such emotional depth.
The audience is barely given any time to become invested in the protagonist before her trauma starts to mold her into a different person. Because that time isn’t allowed, the alterations in her personality aren’t as hard-hitting or effective as they could be. Often the viewer is left in silence, simply reading text messages sent between the two leads, which feels like an immensely lazy way to show their relationship forged by a joint experience evolve. An obvious appeal to today’s youth that doesn’t pay off.
The film shifts its focus between exploring the psychological hardships of these victims without ever committing to activism concerning gun violence, which ultimately could have been one of the audience’s biggest takeaways. The plot also occasionally loses itself in the glamorization of using alcohol and drugs to cope with trauma. In fact, one isn’t sure what The Fallout is trying to achieve until the third act, where it actually reaches a conclusion that is cleverly composed, prompting an actual conversation about these relevant and tragic issues for the first time (at the end).
Jenna Ortega is the only actor who gives an impressive performance, practically carrying the film. She does the best she can with the script and manages to display the broad range of emotions that are expected from an average teenager in a coming of age story. Following her questionable performance in Sia’s Music, Maddie Ziegler’s execution here is distracting and at times hardly feels like acting, instead giving the impression that she’s simply playing herself. Her character also suffers from being underdeveloped, one never really learns her values or gets to witness how much she changes following the inciting incident. Shailene Woodley has to be mentioned. Her small but notable role in the film feels critically underused and could have contributed greatly to some desired emotion.
For a film that boasts popular musician Finneas O’Connell as its composer, it’s shocking how it lacks the presence of a strong score that could have otherwise elevated the viewing experience significantly. The film’s cinematography may be a pleasure to watch, but it lacks the support of a stronger song section or original music to flow through the sensations the visuals attempt to create.
The Fallout boasts a lot of potential to be a hard-hitting and relevant coming of age story. By falling short in a number of ways, it can’t decide if it wants to be that kind of coming of age story or a message-oriented commentary on issues that continue to press the youth of America. Let it be shown that intricacy above all else is pivotal for a story as character oriented as this one.