“The Fallout” stars Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Julie Bowen, John Ortiz, Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, and Shailene Woodley. Released on HBO Max on January 27, 2022, the film has a high school student navigating emotional trauma following a school shooting.
The film featured the directorial debut of Megan Park, who’s known for portraying Grace Bowman in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”. School is essential for us to learn the important stuff needed to help us grow to be better (and wiser) people. Unfortunately, some refused to go for several reasons. They don’t want to get picked on by bullies, they hate doing homework, they think it’s boring. The list goes on. Now, people have another reason to be afraid of attending school: they don’t want to get shot to death by a gun-toting maniac. It’s pretty terrifying to experience something as dangerous as a school shooting, but what makes it even more gut-wrenching is the trauma that appears during the aftermath. This film, in particular, happens to be no exception. This is another occasion where I didn’t realize a movie like this was coming out until I unintentionally found it while internet surfing. I saw that it became a hit at last year’s South by Southwest and got a slew of talented actors, and I was immediately sold. There weren’t a lot of big movies playing in theaters this week, so why not use the opportunity to review something from a streaming service? With that in mind, let’s see if this high school drama is as traumatically compelling as its real-life scenario.
The story centers on Vada Cavell (Ortega), a teen who spends her everyday life at her high school. One day, a tragic school shooting happens, which affects Vada and the rest of the students, including Mia (Ziegler), a dancer, and Quinton (Fitch), whose brother is killed. As a result, Vada goes through an emotional fallout, which alters her relationships with her friends, family, and perspective on the world. It’s easy to see that the film doesn’t shy away from how people feel after a tragic and unexpected incident. They also sometimes do things they don’t expect to do, like drinking. It’s a process that can be emotionally draining but also satisfying compelling if the representation is done correctly. They don’t want to make it too sappy or cheesy that it’s offensive, but they also don’t want it to be too depressing that it’s unwatchable. Luckily for Megan Park, the film managed to find the right balance to portray the strong talent involved and the subtle honesty of the emotional trauma inflicted on the surviving victims. As a director, Megan Park successfully displays realism and sensitivity in the drama sequences instead of going all out on its melodrama. It may sound boring on paper, but it isn’t. It helps the audience grow more attached to the characters as human beings rather than fictional people who yell at each other every few minutes. Combine that with a riveting screenplay, and you get a film that might kickstart Megan Park’s career as a filmmaker in a massive way. My only minor issue with the story was that despite its 91-minute runtime, its pacing was a bit sluggish during a couple of scenes. Other than that, the story is captivating and empathetic enough to make me feel invested in the teen-filled world of grief and trauma. What made it even more engaging was the incredible cast, mainly Jenna Ortega. She’s been impressing me nonstop with her roles in film and television regardless of how the final product turned out. This one, in particular, is no exception, as Ortega goes for a more dramatic and authentic approach in her performance. The result is nothing but remarkable. I don’t know how else I could describe it other than that she did a fantastic job with her portrayal as Vada. I would even say that she should deserve more awards recognition. Maddie Ziegler, who starred in many music videos by Sia, also turned in a bonafide performance as Mia. After what happened to her regarding Sia’s critically-panned debut “Music”, this is definitely something that she needed to get herself back on her feet. Niles Fitch and Will Ropp were also solid in their roles as Quinton and Nick, respectively. With a group of talented young actors like that, it is no wonder this film features plenty of chemistry that felt real and potent, especially during the scenes involving Vada and Mia. I could watch these people talk about anything for 20 minutes and never get bored. That’s how I knew these two actors were perfect together.
Overall, “The Fallout” is a highly thoughtful and subtle depiction of teen trauma that showcases the fantastic talent both on-screen and off. It can be a bit slow at times, and it may not be for everyone who also went down that path. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant representation of people dealing with a heart-breaking event that has happened far too often, especially when it involves a place where they can learn, grow, and even hang out. Ortega and Ziegler delivered career-best performances, and Megan Park has proven her worth as a respectable filmmaker and storyteller. I would highly recommend this one to those who have HBO Max and are familiar with its themes.