Reach is an at times awkward, always earnest new teen drama that deals with depression, suicide and teen drug use. It’s a movie with good intentions if not top notch filmmaking or style. Sometimes a movie just has its heart in the right place and that’s enough for me to nod along and recommend it and that is definitely the case with Reach. I could decry issues with the look of the film, the awkward acting and the fumbling obviousness of some story points but I was genuinely compelled by some of the characters, enough that I can say I liked Reach.
Reach stars Garrett Clayton, a veteran of the Disney Channel among other teen oriented products, as Steven, a depressed High School Senior. As Steven begins his return to High School for his Senior year he is also pondering suicide. He knows what is waiting for him at school isn’t merely the pressure of academics but the heart-rending struggle with bullies, one in particular who has had it out for Steven for years, for very personal reasons.
Nick (Jordan Doww) is that bully, a former friend who turned into a bully following an incident between Steven and Nick’s parents, specifically their fathers who are former police partners. Nick’s father is now an abusive alcoholic and Nick appears ready to continue the cycle of violence. Nick however, is interrupted by Clarence (Johnny James Fiore), who decides to adopt Steven as his new best friend and defends him when Nick starts in on the bullying.
Though Steven tries to escape him and get back into his depression spiral, Clarence won’t let Steven alone and eventually the two are inseparable and Steven appears on the road to recovery. The tenuousness of that recovery is the driving force of the plot of Reach through the middle and into the final act. Anything could tip Steven back to the dark side and we come to find that Clarence himself is no angel, despite a name that rings a bell, if you know what I mean. (Hint: It’s a Wonderful Life)
Reach is Steven’s story but first time director Leif Rokesh does occasionally crowd out his star with a lot of plot threads. I mentioned Nick and his father, they pop up repeatedly throughout Reach pulling focus from Steven and his story in order to set up the final act. Then there is an overarching mystery plot surrounding the suicide death of Steven’s mother and what that had to do with something that Steven’s dad may have done. It’s not hard to figure out but the film is clumsy in inserting this plot point.
All of that said, the clumsiness, the awkward acting, none of that takes away from the strong center of Reach which is the story of depression and recovery of recognizing your demons and confronting them and a story about seeking and finding acceptance amid deep seeded discomfort. Reach tells Steven’s story well and young Garrett Clayton does a tremendous job of communicating Steven’s heartaches and triumphs.
The main triumph is his friendship with Clarence which is portrayed exceptionally well. Johnny James Fiore is not what I would call a natural. He’s awkward and his part is written in a way that makes him seem too old for the part of a High School Senior. But, Fiore and Clayton are good together. The two have a natural friendly chemistry that comes to the fore as they work through the initial, awkward phase of getting to know each other.
Many of us have had friends like Clarence, force of nature types who insert themselves into the lives of people they decide should be their friend. Good people, maybe a tad obnoxious and not entirely self-aware but with a good heart and a soft spot for underdogs like Steven. This part of Reach is so good that it is why I recommend the movie. I love the way in which Clarence’s empathy defines his character and the good natured, good hearted way that Fiore plays the role.
Reach is far from perfect, as I mentioned already, but for a low-budget drama with a big, tough subject like bullying, teenage sexuality, drug use and family trauma, it works surprisingly well. The film has a lot of heart and cares about the subject of teenage suicide and depression and cares to get to the root of a character who is suffering. Not everyone has a friend like Clarence who can cut through your defenses and help you back on the right path but maybe seeing someone model that behavior will inspire someone to be that person, to try to be like a Clarence. That makes Reach a valuable movie and one I can recommend.
Reach is available to rent via online streaming services starting Friday, October 19th.