Film Review: 1 Mile to You

Dead-teen romance about a high-school track star who can't run away from his grief. Great supporting performances by Billy Crudup and Peter Coyote, but little else.
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Doomed romances with dead or dying teens go back to the ancient progenitors of Romeo and Juliet and continue on in both box-office hits (2002's A Walk to Remember, 2014's The Fault in Our Stars) and misses (2000's Here on Earth, 2012's Now Is Good). While most center on cancer or leukemia, 1 Mile to You harkens back to the golden age of vehicle-teenicide songs like "Last Kiss" and "Dead Man's Curve"—and despite the movie's small virtues, it made me want to drive into the side of a mountain after the third, fourth and fifth times we get a slow-motion close-up of our track-star hero running toward the camera. Seriously, it happened four times in the first 32 minutes before, so to speak, I lost track.

Based on Jeremy Jackson's 2002 novel Life at These Speeds—the film's original and better title—1 Mile to You finds starry-eyed teens Kevin Schuler (Graham Rogers) and Ellie so-help-me Butterbit (Stefanie Scott) parting after an away track meet. She's going home on the school bus (driven by track coach Tim Roth, with no explanation for the British accent or for why you'd hire a Tim Roth for only five minutes onscreen) and Kevin is returning in his parents' car. Even if you didn't know what the film was about, you'd know she wasn't long for this world. One tragic accident later, 12 teens are dead and Kevin's heart can't go on.

Transferring to a new school in another district ten miles away, the mourning teen is coerced into running track for Coach K, played by Billy Crudup in another of his dependably mesmerizing performances. Conveying smarts and inspiration despite a creepy smile and a laser stare, he's the film's highlight. Another is Liana Liberato as Henny Finch, a girl at Kevin's new school who somehow comes across as sweet and centered even while throwing herself at Kevin so embarrassingly it's borderline stalking. On second thought, no—there's no borderline about it.

There's also no way around saying that star Rogers, who gets points for not coming off as actor-ish and not trying to be artificially sympathetic, has the instincts but not yet the chops for a role as emotionally difficult as that of the damaged Kevin. Grief-stricken as Kevin is, there has to be more to him, and his personality is a cipher except in one great dialogue scene in which Kevin, sitting in a kitchen toward the end of a boozy teen party, calmly and confidently trades trash talk with his track rival (Tom Cocquerel).

Adapted by first-time screenwriter Marc Novak and directed by former actor Leif Tilden, the film is shot with great technical control and proficiency—Kevin-slo-mo-running-toward-camera notwithstanding. But the film is padded with countless shots of Kevin imagining himself chasing after Ellie in some dreamscape long after we get the point. And troublingly, Ellie and Henny look so much alike that at least once I had trouble telling if something were a flashback to Ellie or recent memories of Henny. More significantly, it’s hard to share Kevin's grief when we don't know a thing about his dead paramour and, actually, very little about him either.

One final question: If you're going to specifically place your film in Madison County, Mississippi, then why, except for consummate pro Peter Coyote as a high-school principal, does virtually no one have a Southern accent? A British accent, yes, though. Blimey.

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