In the world in which he lives, 18-year-old Carlos (Miguel Angel Garcia) is a genius. However, he's already mathematically proven he'll never be happy and even though he's been accepted to the Ivy League's Brown University the school was only third on his wish list.
Carlos Through the Tall Grass is a gentle whisper of a coming-of-age film, a consistently appealing feature film with a story that never feels false and characters whom you can't help but love.
Carlos is, we quickly learn, filled with a combination of self-doubt and an embrace of the safe world in which he lives where his intelligence and kindness are good enough for the people around him who acknowledge his intelligence but also benefit from it.
What if he's not really that smart? What if he's only "neighborhood" smart? What if the neighborhood in which he lives in the place he's supposed to be?
Indeed, it's a rather remarkable world. There's Rhonda (Ammy Ontiveros), Carlos's BFF who's most definitely not going off to college and spends a good majority of her time trying to figure out where she belongs and what she's going to do with her life. It's the friendship between Carlos and Rhonda that serves as the emotional foundation of the film and that serves as the bridge to everything else that unfolds. Garcia and Ontiveros have an absolutely delightful chemistry, and while Garcia is most certainly the central focus here there's little denying that Ontiveros completely lights up the screen with sincerity and humor.
There are a myriad of others such as Carlos's mother Ana (Ruby Gonzalez) and an innocent man, Perry (Chuck Redman), whom Carlos is trying to help get released from prison. While Carlos can most certainly see his own faults, in this world in which he lives he's still something special.
Will he be special if he leaves?
One of the glorious things about Carlos Through the Tall Grass is that writer/director Rick Dominguez avoids unnecessary histrionics and conflicts in favor of telling a meaningful story that satisfies emotionally and intellectually. The film's largely gentle pace is rewarded by a strong ensemble chemistry and Garcia's charismatic performance as a young man learning you can't get anywhere new if you stick to the familiar roads. The film benefits from David Hebrero's warm and inviting lensing for the film and wonderfully complementary music by Damian Winterbottom. Carlos Through the Tall Grass feels comfortable in all the best ways and is the kind of film that will have you leaving feeling much better than when you walked in.
As already noted, Ammy Ontiveros is wonderful as Rhonda with a performance that is so filled with heart you'll feel like you're about to burst. Ruby Gonzalez is also terrificc as Ana while there's simply not a weak link in the ensemble.
Carlos Through the Tall Grass is a delightfully entertaining coming-of-age story about learning to look beyond the tall grass and toward the dreams that may appear out of sight but are really waiting for us on up ahead.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic