October 14, 2007

Review of The Doe Boy

Synopsis

The Doe BoyDirected by Randy Redroad. Cast: James Duval, Kevin Anderson, Jeri Arredondo, Jade Hererra, Gordon Tootoosis. This coming-of-age films tells the story of Hunter, a half Cherokee with hemophilia (a "white man's disease"), whose teen angst is compounded by his confusing cultural identity. With an overprotective mother and a distant father, Hunter learns from his grandfather the courage to find the love he desperately seeks.The Doe Boy (2002)James Duval stars in this coming of age drama as Hunter, a young Native American whose teen angst is compounded by his confusing cultural identity. Though his mother is a full Cherokee, his father Hank is not and, to make matters worse, Hunter has hemophilia, long considered a white man's disease among Native Americans. Feeling himself to be an outsider even in his Cherokee community and unable to physically connect with others his age because of his hemophilia, Hunter begins to act out, further driving a wedge between himself, his family, and his community. Both a thoughtful coming of age drama and a meaningful look at the often contradictory and confusing notions of cultural identity in modern America, THE DOE BOY is both entertaining and thought provoking.On the positive side...

Indie Film-making at its bestJames Duval gives a performance that is positively incandescent; it is an amazing achievement. With relatively little dialogue, it is through facial features and body language that he fills Hunter with a sense of defiance and a desperate need for acceptance. We witness the painful struggle he endures of always being different, in not one, but numerous ways. Acceptance and understanding do not come easy, but with the aid of his wise grandfather, a beautiful girl, and coming to grips with his heritage and and the forces of nature, Hunter's journey is one that everyone should be able to relate to. It is a brilliant, moving performance.

In every way this quiet, little movie is about as perfect as indie film can be. A joy to watch.
The Doe BoyThe movie is never dogmatic about any of this stuff, not even when addressing Native mythology. It's really just a good coming-of-age story about a young man trying to find himself. Generally, it's enough to have a solid movie with great acting, like this one. It's a bonus when it actually has something to say.On the negative side...

The Doe Boy (2002) Movie ReviewContemporary Native American culture is only occasionally presented on-screen with any degree of cultural honesty, and "The Doe Boy" often seems as if its Cherokee story angle was tacked on to provide an exotic accessory to distract from an otherwise quotidian screenplay. Genuine understanding or appreciation of the Cherokee culture, either past or present, is absent from the film. In its place, Hunter is given some Native drinking buddies (which is more than a little offensive in view of the traditional plague of alcoholism among the Indian communities) and a wise old Cherokee grandfather who plays the flute and speaks with a broken English reminiscent of the slapstick Indians of "F Troop" than a genuine person living in the late 20th century.

Nor does it help to have James Duval in the title role. Despite his make-up, Duval quite frankly looks like a white guy trying to go Native and his listless performance suggests he's more than aware of his unfortunate presence in this production. There is no shortage of talented Indian actors (the versatile Adam Beach immediately comes to mind as being better suited for this role) and the producers' reluctance to cast an Indian in this role seems fairly strange in this multicultural day.
The Doe BoyOne of the film's pitfalls is its reliance on an assumed subtext about hunting, an activity that is central to the story and the characters. The various people in the film, from Hunter, his father, and his grandfather to Hunter's friends and neighbors, are all either avid deer hunters or are fascinated by the subject. It's obviously an important element in their lives ... but the significance of the hunt to their society is never really brought out. For me personally, the hunt just looked like a display of machismo; it seems clear that the director intended it to be both more profound and more complex, but too much of the canvas is left blank, and any deeper meaning is difficult to find.

The ending of the film makes a creditable effort to pull the various thematic threads together, showing how Hunter's steps toward independence give him the opportunity to accept his past, and his family, and move on toward a life of his own. Still, I didn't feel that The Doe Boy made the necessary connections between storyline, theme, and character to make the story truly engaging.
Rob's review:  The truth of The Doe Boy is somewhere between the positive and negative extremes. Some comments on these comments:

  • I thought James Duval did a decent job of acting. And according to IMDB.com, he's "of mixed ethnic backgrounds (mother is Vietnamese-French, father is Irish-Native American Indian-French)," so he's (a small) part Native.

  • The grandfather is your typical movie-Indian grandfather ... the type of role owned by Gordon Tootoosis and August Schellenberg these days ... neither better nor worse than average. And although he's almost wise enough to be a cliché, his English isn't broken.

  • The "drinking buddies" don't imbibe to excess, so their appearance isn't offensive. In fact, one pal intercepts a white guy who may have drunk too much. Meanwhile, both Hunter and his friend Junior get to kiss a girl on-screen, which is rare in Native movies.

  • The critics are right that the specifics of Cherokee culture are missing. This story is strictly generic Indian. Except for a line saying the story takes place in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, it could've been set anywhere in Indian Country that has a forest and deer.

  • The critics have shortchanged the elements that raise The Doe Boy above the predictable. The Native protagonist has a serious but not life-threatening disease. His Native mother is gainfully employed as a nurse. His Native friends tease him but also protect him from harm. His Native grandfather gives him a flute ... but says it's for catching girls. His Native love interest is a college student who studies speech therapy.

  • All in all, I'd say The Doe Boy is more entertaining than thought-provoking, but it's worth seeing. Rob's rating: 7.5 of 10.

    P.S. The Doe Boy trailer is ridiculously overblown--pumped up with tension as if this is an action movie. So is Doe Boy's slogan: "Heroes make their own destiny." Don't let these things fool you. Doe Boy is a lot closer to a feel-good, disease-of-the-week chick flick than it is to a searing drama like Deliverance or The Deer Hunter.

    4 comments:

    russell said...

    Writerfella here --
    So, who is the sponsor for 'The Doe Boy?' PILLSBURY?!?
    aLL bEST
    rUSS bATES
    'WRITERFELLA'

    carole said...

    No, Russ...it's Homer Simpson. D'OH!

    Pensmoke said...

    It's funny to me how the reviews of the movie I have read on different sites always down the choice of Duval as a Cherokee and talk about how he looks like a "white guy with a bad Cher wig" or whatever. The reviews are obviously written by non-Indians who have the stereotypical view of what they think Indians should look like in their mind. This may be okay when pertaining to other tribes but not the Cherokee, especially those in OK. There are mixed-bloods there who actually look LESS Indian than James Duval. And isn't he 1/4th Native? There are many in OK (enrolled in C.N.O.) that have a blood quantum of much less. It seems to me like a bunch of ignorant movie critics are trying to impose what they think a "real Ijnun" should look like on this movie's lead actor.Since he doesnt fit their stereotype they see that as a reason to give this movie a bad rating.

    p.s.

    I am speaking of reviews I read on a number of OTHER sites and not Rob's review.

    Rob said...

    I don't know what percent Indian Duval is supposed to be.

    We know his character, Hunter, is half white right off the bat. That alone tells us he's not going to look like a (stereo)typical Indian. I'd say Duval is well within the range of people who could play someone who's half Indian.

    So you have a point, Pensmoke. Audiences may have rejected Duval as Hunter because he didn't look or act "Indian" enough. That would be their mistake, not his.