Probably the most common theme at SXSW is that of the young teenage boy trying to find himself. With a new filmmaker trying to cut his teeth on a first feature, it isn’t surprising that writer/director Michael Johnson uses the stereotypical drugs, alcohol abuse, and depression to wade through self discovery. “Each man’s wilderness is his own; It’s alive in us,” the lead character says. It becomes very evident early on that ‘James’ is personal, as if Johnson wants to share some of his own pain with the audience.

 After the death of his father, 17-year-old James (McPhee) is lost and restless. He has become antisocial, and the emotions he does feel are transmitted into disturbing drawings. His therapists (DeVito) isn’t much help either, and James feels very distant from his mother (Madsen), who doesn’t know how to comfort him. James meets a local street performer who introduces him to drugs, drinking and music beyond his favorite artist: Chopin. Their friendship leads James to this mysterious girl who bakes character cakes. Even with his world changing, and now including friends, James cannot stop thinking about how abandoned he feels by his father and the secret about that fateful night that he hasn’t told anyone.

 Madsen (Sideways) and DeVito (Batman Returns) are highly underutilized in the film, and perhaps again that has to do with the fact that Johnson is such a green filmmaker. He never really offers the viewer any thrilling insight or unique vision inside the mind of James or any other similar teenager. It’s punk skaters, hooked on music and weed, walking around all hours of the night in downtown Portland hoping to find a purpose in life. In the final thirty minutes of the film, things do seem to come together; the “big secret” would have been far more beneficial to the audience had it come in the beginning because we fail to empathize with his pain until it’s revealed.

 All The Wilderness (previous titled The Wilderness of James is similar in many ways to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but nowhere near as brilliant, emotional, or inspired. McPhee never takes us inside his pain the way Logan Lerman did, but it’s the connection with the audience that never happens here. Portland is portrayed much like James mood: grungy and off-putting. The film only finds it’s voice when it’s too late, the characters come to life at the ending instead of the beginning, and it always feels as if it could be better, as if some interesting script was left unwritten.

 Final Thought – Lost in its own lackluster Wilderness.

Grade C-

By: Dustin Chase