Beans: Review

Beans: Review

Director Tracey Deer’s coming-of-age drama, Beans, tells the story of a young girl that goes by the nickname Beans (Kiawentiio).  Her and her family are Mohawk.  The film opens with Beans interviewing for admission into an illustrious prep school.  Beans is the picture of preparation and determination.  She tells the haughty woman conducting the interview that she wants to be either a doctor or a lawyer. 

When the woman asks she why she wants to pursue those professions, she freezes; she does not know how to answer.  Beans, as is typical in any coming-of-age drama, is unformed clay.  The rest of the film tells the story of her formation. 

Beans mixes the personal with the political.  We are informed that the film is inspired by true events.  Those events, as recounted by real news footage from 1990, is of the 78-day standoff in Kanesatake, in the north of Montreal, between members of the Mohawk community and Canadian government forces. 

Developers want to build a golf course on a sacred burial ground.  Her parents, Lily (Rainbow Dickerson) and Joel (Kania’Tariio), hear the call to action and join their fellow Mohawk protestors.  The town’s inhabitants savagely turn against the Mohawk protesters and give evidence of their bigotry.

Deer tells the story of the standoff through the eyes of Beans.  The cataclysm produced by the protest and the backlash give her a political consciousness.  We also bare witness to her social formation.  She tries to make friends with a group of older teens. 

Beans gets training from an older alienated teen, April (Paulina Alexis), on how to be tough.  She begins shedding her good girl persona.  She learns to fight back. 

I really wanted to like the film.  The thematic dilemma of assimilation versus dissent is a fertile one.  We see Beans being pulled on one side by a desire to assimilate and go to an illustrious prep school while being pulled on the other side by her newly discovered political consciousness and rage.  Beans, however, plays things way too safe.  We can predict early on that Beans will become tougher and then circle back around to a final “enlightened” stage. 

The mixing of a political event with a coming-of-age teenage story just does not work.  It’s not that Deer does a sloppy job of combining the political and the coming-of-age.  In fact, just the opposite.  The story is told too tidily, too neatly.  Beans holds no surprises.  It is a missed opportunity at telling the story of the Kanesatake standoff.

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A Cuban-American obsessed with documentaries and anything by Kubrick, Haneke, Breillat, or McQueen. If he is not watching films in his hometown of Miami, he is likely travelling somewhere in Asia enjoying okonomiyaki or pho.


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