John Carpenter's Halloween may be one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but one thing it did was help turn the actual holiday into one we associate with really scary and horrific movies. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule -- last year saw the animated Frankenweenie and the teen comedy Fun Size hit theaters -- but generally Halloween doesn't care much for family films, which is pretty ironic seeing as the holiday is all about kids dressing up and going door-to-door collecting candy. This is why a film like Grow Up, Tony Phillips is important -- not just for the sake of diversity in October, but for families in general. Families that want to celebrate a holiday with their kids once It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has run its course.
This year's most endearing movie at the SXSW Film Festival is also special in that it's an extremely rare coming-of-age film from a director who's literally coming of age. At 20 years old, Emily Hagins is still trying to discover the director she wants to be and the stories she wants to tell. The documentary Zombie Girl originally put Hagins on the map, depicting a 12-year-old girl whose passion in life was making horror movies. Years later and Hagins is still at it, and she's becoming more successful with each new project. Her last film, My Sucky Teen Romance, was her first to be accepted to the SXSW Film Festival (it eventually found VOD/Blu-ray distribution), and her follow-up just premiered at the 2013 fest to a warm reception.
For Grow Up, Tony Phillips, Hagins takes a detour into family-friendly mode in order to pay tribute to a holiday that desperately needs more movies that celebrate its deliciously sweet magic. One person described it as A Christmas Story for Halloween, and while we won't know if it has that sort of long-lasting power until well into the future, the film -- about a teenage boy who refuses to reject the childlike spirit of Halloween when all his friends gave up costumes and trick-or-treating years ago -- is charming, humorous and adorable, and the perfect holiday alternative for families looking to avoid the scary stuff.
Featuring a trio of genuine, heartfelt (and amusing) performances from A.J. Bowen (The Signal, You're Next) and newcomers Tony Vespe and Katie Folger, Grow Up, Tony Phillips never pretends to be slicker or snarkier than it actually is, and quite often feels like it's definitely coming straight from the brain of a kid who's also against growing up too fast. The comedy and character storylines are simple and easy to follow, giving the film a kind of family-friendly accessibility that's certainly sought after once October rolls around.
Grow Up, Tony Phillips may be too small and personal for 3,000 screens, but the overwhelming love and respect it has for a holiday that's become known for sexy costumes, torture porn and haunted house movies is what makes it so welcoming, as well as a no-brainer for some kind of VOD/Blu-ray release for those families and aspiring dreamers searching for a Halloween experience that's a little more meaningful come October.
Note: My friend and colleague Peter Hall was a coproducer on this film and is an editor at this website, though that did not in any way affect my opinions of it.
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