All the Wilderness

Someone ought to get Kodi Smit-McPhee a comedy. A dark one, of course. Career highlights so far include The RoadLet Me In, and ParaNorman — the latter, a cartoon, being funny at last but also missing out on the asset of his actual face. With visible smarts and lanky vulnerability, not to mention an apparent penchant for morbid scenarios, Smit-McPhee lately is seeming like a second coming of Bud Cort circa Harold and Maude. Now All the Wilderness presents him as a fatherless, death-obsessed teenager struggling to emerge from listless self-isolation — keeping a journal of critter corpses, and exasperating the weary mother (Virginia Madsen) who isn’t wrong to consider him a person of interest in the demise of the family hamster. The thing is, it’s very much a drama. With equal affection for comely Portland skater kids and canopies of forest trees, debut writer-director Michael Johnson comes across as something like a moviemaking love child of Gus Van Sant and Terrence Malick. And Smit-McPhee surely is great for Johnson’s project, which, being mopey and slight but with glimmers of wit and warmth, even resembles him physically. Gently situated within a padding of parallel-cut urban and woodsy wayfaring, some of it in slow motion for emotional accentuation or maybe just to kill time, the actor makes short work of requisite lyrical voiceovers, and delivers his eventual catharsis with subtlety and simplicity. All he’s not allowed to do is get big laffs. Maybe next time?