The first thing you notice about Grear Patterson’s “Giants Being Lonely” is how unbelievably sharp it looks. Hunter Zimny’s cinematography is bright, and it’s crisp, and if you weren’t sitting in a theater you could swear that someone left the motion smoothing on. “Giants Being Lonely” may have the free-floating structure of a Terrence Malick joint, but it hasn’t been filmed through the fog of memory. It’s immediate and specific and painful and impressive.
Set in an unspecified rural alcove of the American South, “Giants Being Lonely” examines the lives in the orbit of a high school baseball team. Their team, the Giants, is talented and successful, thanks mostly to a star pitcher named Bobby (Jack Irving) and, perhaps, to their emotionally abusive Coach (Gabe Fazio, “A Star is Born”), whose overlooked son Adam (Ben Irving, Jack’s real-life brother) is on the team too. Not that anyone would notice.
When he’s not pitching, Bobby has free rein of the community, wandering wherever he pleases, sleeping in gazebos and enjoying the predatory (yet seemingly normalized) attention of every woman in town. It seems that in the world of “Giants Being Lonely,” the teen boys in the sporting world are viewed, subconsciously if not systemically, as public property. Bobby in particular is to be appreciated and, if he’s up for it (and he often is), taken advantage of by whoever pleases.
Bobby’s father may be a particularly pathetic alcoholic, the kind of guy who promises to be at his son’s big baseball game but spends the night at home making friends with a moth instead, but Bobby doesn’t seem to be hurting much. He enjoys the attention and freedom, and he’s superlatively talented at the mound without ever seeming cocky about it. His next-door neighbor Caroline (Lily Gavin) is sleeping with everyone in school but clearly loves him. Meanwhile, Adam — whose home life with the coach is as miserable as you’d expect — might just low-key hate his guts.
These giants may be lonely, but they’re not lazy. They’re working their asses off to make Coach happy. They have hardships. What they also have, and what the mostly-suffering adults in their lives seem to envy, is time to spare. They have aimless afternoons and meaningless conversations and a whole future ahead of them that isn’t filled with regrets, yet. They could seem frustratingly charmed if Patterson’s film didn’t generously offer up context.
And although the film isn’t in a particular rush to get anywhere, and only a few sequences involving prom and drugs and abuse are even vaguely reminiscent of conventional plotting, it’s never less than engrossing. The pictures Zimny paints are earthy and alive, even at their quietest, and watching the characters idle through them with almost alarming acuity feels organic, as though a nature documentary caught a glimpse of this human drama by accident.
The editing by Ismael de Diego (“Havana Skate Days”) is dreamy but never falls asleep on us; we’re not so much imagining the events of “Giants Being Lonely” but rather appreciating them through the filter of very mild over-the-counter drugs.
“Giants Being Lonely” explores the ramifications of certain kinds of abuse, romanticizes others, and has very little interest in the future of its characters. Only their naive present seems to matter, and that’s only a good thing half the time. The adults are trapped by their own behaviors and life choices, and the teens are trapped by the behaviors and life choices of those same adults. And as the film leads to a visceral, jarring conclusion, we learn just how far some people will go to break cycles and to end this fantasy we all seem to have of a perfect, flawless youth.
Grear Patterson, making his feature directorial debut, either has extreme confidence in this material or he’s hiding it very well. To evoke the complex rhythms of Terrence Malick, which even Malick doesn’t always do very well, while still telling a unique story from a singular perspective is no easy feat. “Giants Being Lonely” feels like it belongs somewhere, at least, in a coming-of-age canon, as it bridges that vital, rarely discussed space between stories told by youths and stories told about them, after the fact, after all their earnestness and inexperience has been long-since forgotten.