SIFF ’09 review: True Adolescents

Mark Duplass as Sam in True Adolescents

True Adolescents, written & directed by Craig Johnson
(USA, 2009) 88 min.

Festival Screenings:

June 4, 2009 9:30pm, The Egyptian
June 6, 2009 1:30pm, The Egyptian

Act Your Age: True Adolescents SIFF Party
June 6, 2009 8:00pm, The Comet 21+ $7 at the door

The Effort (featuring members of The Blakes), The Fucking Eagles, Basemint (featuring members of Wallpaper), Black Daisy, and DJ sets by Mono In VCF’s Hunter Lea.

Review by Leigh Bezezekoff

When you set out to film a movie about a thirty-something Seattle musician, you better have one thing right: the music. Jaded Seattleites accustomed to rolling their eyes when Singles is brought up in conversations know what I’m talking about. Seattle music is diverse, and we have a long history of great music to choose from and that should be represented when a movie is located here. One glance at True Adolescent’s soundtrack should be enough to let you know that this movie not only has a good handle on the music, but also offers an excellent sampling of local artists as well-owing to the local roots by writer/director Craig Johnson and Music Supervisor Sandy Wilson (the film & TV licensing guru at Seattle’s own Light in the Attic Records).

But, True Adolescents doesn’t rest on the soundtrack alone.

On the surface, the film is about a guy who gets kicked out of his girlfriend’s house and goes to live with his aunt (Academy Award Winner Melissa Leo) who guilts him into taking her son and a friend camping. Thrust into a weird father-figure type role, Sam and the boys embark on a road trip that’s filled with wise cracks, misunderstandings, and worse case scenarios as one of the boys goes missing in the woods.

Johnson’s warmth, depth, and humor shine throughout the story, and the lead character Sam played by Mark Duplass (Humpday, The Puffy Chair) is not just one-dimensional-even if he doesn’t know it. I found myself instantly relating to many of the characters in this story, and having more than one laugh as I recognized a lot of my friends in Sam. There were definitely some tender moments too, but they were usually offset by nudity, embarrassing moments, and jokes at other people’s expenses which made it all the more realistic. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you there were definitely a couple of plot twists I did not see coming which made this story more than a typical coming-of-age flick.

One cool thing to note is that in addition to a couple of spots on the soundtrack, local band and KEXP faves The Blakes also make an appearance in the movie as Duplass’ band The Effort. Snow Keim even snatches up a credited role in the film as JR and was actually quite good. I was really impressed with the music in the film which ran the gamut on genres and eras. It could have been a KEXP playlist with classic songs from The Sonics and The Free Design, along with emerging artists like Devendra Banhardt, Band of Horses, The Black Keys, The Blakes, Wallpaper, Mono In VCF, Hazelwood Motel, Black Daisy, Sunset Valley, and The Fucking Eagles.

I had the opportunity to talk with the film’s music supervisor Sandy Wilson about how the soundtrack came together.

How did you get involved with the film?

Craig and I had mutual friends in Aubrey Nehring and Rena Bussinger (Associate Producer/Art Director for True Adolescents) who recommended me for the position. I met up with Thomas Woodrow and Craig Johnson at the old Twilight Exit for drinks and we seemed to hit it off pretty well.

Did your role as Light in the Attic’s Film & TV Licensor help or hind you?

It definitely helped. Especially since I represent bands for film/TV licensing that are not on the Light in the Attic catalog – many of which (luckily and thankfully) made it into the film. The fact that I had the right bands readily available and the knowledge of licensing music was everything. However, there are some bands in the film that were beyond my immediate network – which is where the actual work began.

Approximately how many times have you seen the film?

Oh jeez, including all of the rough cuts over the last 2 years…let’s just say that there’s not much left of my poor computer.

How did you choose the bands featured in the film?

The film itself dictates the music. It was a matter of studying the film and having a true understanding of the scenes themselves and the film as a whole. That’s what gets one ‘in the ballpark.’ From that point on it’s really about trial and error. There were songs that I thought, after reading the script, would be perfect for a certain scene – but once you drop them into the actual scene and see how they fit, you find out right away what floats and what doesn’t. A big part also is the dialogue that I had with the director, producer, and editor. At the end of the day they are the client and I give them what they want.

I heard somewhere that you were instrumental in getting The Blakes into the movie as the band Mark Duplass’ character Sam plays in (The Effort). Is that true? How did that come about?

I did in fact. In another meeting with Thomas and Craig they had asked me if I knew of a band that would be able to act as Sam’s backup band, and they mentioned that they wanted a band that looked like The Blakes. As they were on Light in the Attic at the time and, unbeknownst to Thomas and Craig, were also good friends of mine – I smiled to myself and said “I’ll see what I can do.” In the end The Blakes still had to audition and get the part, which obviously they did. That, I think, was the most important part.

Your band Black Daisy had an interesting placement as “Slacknut” in the film. (Note to the readers: In this scene, young Bret Loehr’s character Oliver is being schooled by Sam on proper road music, i.e. Sam throws Oliver’s Slacknut CD out the window and proclaims it as crap.) Were your band mates ok with “Slacknut” being used that way?

Yeah, they were more than okay with it, they loved it. It couldn’t have been more perfect. But let me state for the record that I was not, at that time, in the band. That was how I met Troy Nelson and Cody Hurd. As it turned out someone else had recommended to Craig that we use the Black Daisy (aka Voltage Periscope) song “Bearing Down On Me” for that scene as it’s a parody of that kind of music (“bro-metal”). Any other band would have been appalled to have their music in that cue. We revel in it.

What was your favorite song placement in the movie?

There were a couple. But my absolute favorite is the scene when Oliver throws a squid at this girl in his class and the squid flies through the air in slow motion to the Wallpaper song “Bottom Top Blues” because the lyrics couldn’t match up more perfectly. “Got a toluene taste, got a toluene taste, got a vitamin A, got it stuck on your face” as it smacks her in the face. “Need a sea swirl girl and it’s just like the ocean.” I had one of those moments where you feel like all of your clothes and have static cling. It was a good feeling.

The majority of the music is from local indie artists. Did that direction come from you or from the writer/director Craig Johnson?

It came from Craig at the start. His story was influenced by the same things as the music in the film. He was adamant that you can’t have a real Seattle film without real Seattle music. Coming from Seattle, myself, it was easy to see what a rock show at The Comet on a Tuesday would be like, or what song you would play over and over after a break up as you sit in a coffee shop.

Are you working on other films or have anything else in the works?

I just wrapped up a Canadian short film directed by Mike Schultz called Funky Prairie Boy and have another one in the works.

True Adolescents is celebrating their Seattle homecoming and SIFF screenings by throwing a party at The Comet on June 6th. Scheduled to perform are bands whose music is featured in the film: The Effort (featuring members of The Blakes), The Fucking Eagles, Basemint (featuring members of Wallpaper), Black Daisy, and DJ sets by Mono In VCF’s Hunter Lea. Doors at 8pm | 21+ | $7

For more information about screenings, please visit
For more information about True Adolescents please visit

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One Comment

  1. J. Seymour Rockwood
    Posted January 30, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    i couldn’t agree more about the food fight scene. the song totally steals the scene. It made me go out and buy the Wallpaper full length (on the chewing gum ground)

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