Benjamin Brown on Hanna Ladoul’s & Marco La Via’s ‘We The Coyotes’ (2018)
THE DEBUT FEATURE FROM FRENCH DIRECTOR duo Hannah Ladoul and Marco La Via, We The Coyotes (US title: Anywhere with You) is an intimate study of two Illinois twenty-somethings who head West along the path well trodden in a vague search for meaning and direction. Coming from humble beginnings in the suburbs Amanda (Morgan Saylor, Homeland) and Jake (McCaul Lombardy, Sollers Point) are both drawn to the bright lights of Los Angeles, the city’s neon-lit signs spelling out messages of hope and good fortune.
Following a 24 hour, ‘day in the life’ narrative structure familiar to enthusiasts of Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy (1995-2013), We The Coyotes is grounded in the here and now – an acrid, post 9/11 American landscape populated by shattered dreams and broken promises. Loose and impressionistic, scenes mimic the natural flow of life with events meandering from one to another with no apparent linear or logical thread running between them.
As a free-spirited story of a young couple driving the sun-scorched roads of Southern California featuring a bit part role for Lombardy himself, the sweet taste of American Honey (2016) is detectable in the film’s over-saturated lens flares and thinly veiled satiric jibes. Just as with American Honey, from the rhythmic beats of Chance the Rapper blaring out from the car stereo to the impromptu ‘battle rap’, direct, diegetic sound substitutes a traditional film score, acting as a soundtrack to the lives of wide-eyed millennials.
“The truth is, I would have come out here way sooner if I knew you were living in your car like a loser”, goes one line from the freestyle ‘rap off’ between Jake and Danny, his self-medicating muso friend. Just another LA loser looking for a break who instead found himself chewed up and spat out onto the roadside, the same fate is supposedly also in store for Jake, written off by Amanda’s principled family as “the biggest loser on the planet.”
After all, life is a game of winners and losers, with the game rigged from the beginning. Winning herself a prized interview to work for a major LA music label, as with Betty in Mulholland Drive (2000) Amanda begins dreaming of the high life. Yet as with many a cash-strapped star gazer before her, reality descends when in a farcical interview scene it dawns on her that she has applied for an unpaid position. ‘You expect me to work for free?’ ‘Not free, just unpaid’, is the moronic response to her emotion laden question.
Clearly wider socio-economic issues are at play here, something which is acknowledged in largely subtle strokes throughout by Ladoul and La Via. With Danny living out of his car like some vagrant, LA’s deeply rooted housing crisis is one such social issue touched upon, as is the dire dearth in meaningful jobs for young millennials in America today. Jake himself is the carefully selected sacrificial scapegoat for society’s ills, a no good, disposable sack of ‘white trash’ who will never amount to anything.
When viewed as a pair, Jake and Amanda together embody the disaffected youth of small-town America, a section of society relentlessly demonised by press and politicians alike. While the American Dream was arguably once a distant yet attainable aspiration, it is now well and truly beyond the reach of America’s working classes. The casting of Saylor and Lombardy, two actors with fairly modest profiles, lends the characters this ‘otherness’ — wandering aimlessly through disused parking lots and freeway overpasses they are out of place and out of luck.
Ably providing a key supporting role to the unassuming, understated turns given by the two leads, the LA landscape offers up a brooding Method study of the porous state of mind of these naïve young dreamers. From deserted back alleys to the bohemian fringes, the directing duo wisely present LA as observed from behind the painted, stage set facades. Scanning the skyline for opportunities like well-trained sniffer dogs, the film’s title is fitting – the city’s youths take up their strategic positions in the hilltop hinterlands, waiting patiently for their moment to strike (gold).
Sitting together atop a night-time ridge with the city beneath their feet, as a viewer, the magnitude of their decision to move is palpable. We The Coyotes is a sincerely realised ‘coming of age’ story a la Boyhood(2014) and even features a bit part for Lorelai Linklater, Mason’s younger sister in this earlier film.
Deftly managing to sidestep saccharine coated sentiment whilst remaining a road movie romance, We The Coyotes prefers to occupy itself with the messy minutiae of everyday life over making any grand gestures or sweeping moral statements. And all the better for it too.
Premiered as part of the Raindance Film Festival