When it comes to experiences, Dito Montiel has crammed a lot into 37 years. He sang in a punk band at age 13; had a $1m record deal with another band by 21; was a Calvin Klein model; became an author and now has stepped behind the lens to bring his memoir 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints' to the screen. And, after seeing this, you'll wonder just how far his latest career can take him.
It's July 1986 in Astoria, New York and Dito (LaBeouf) is stuck in the sauna of his teenage years. Dito's parents (Palminteri and Wiest) fret over him all the time; his pals, led by the deeply troubled Antonio (Tatum), are always on the lookout for mischief; his girlfriend Laurie (Diaz) wants him to be a bit more grown-up and put the antics and bravado behind him, and new school pal Mike (Compston) tries to make Dito realise that there's a life beyond Astoria. During that sweltering summer all their lives will change forever, and years later the adult Dito (Downey Jr) will return home in a bid to make peace with himself and his past.
Winner of numerous festival awards, including the Special Jury Prize and Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, Montiel's debut is a touching and gritty rites-of-passage study which impacts on you more the longer you think about it.
Unlike his memoir, the film blends real-life incidents from Montiel's own life with fiction and composite characters, but every scene resonates with an authenticity a million miles removed from Hollywood and the rewriters they hire to try and conjure it up.
With its long passages of dialogue and people talking over each other, it takes some time to get used to the energy of what Montiel has put onscreen and even when you've tapped into it, some scenes feel too loose. But for a first-time director he has assembled a dream cast and, more importantly, got great performances from them. Even Tatum, who came across as just another poster boy in the dreary teen dance drama 'Step Up', looks like a star in the making here as Antonio. And while Downey Jr isn't in the film as much as you would hope, his co-stars compensate.
This film has a lot to say about love and friendship. There's no doubt you've seen or heard most of it before, but when lessons are taught like this you just can't learn them often enough.