“We Don’t Belong Here”
A Troubled Family
“We Don’t Belong Here” is a drama about the gaps and bridges of a troubled family that is just barely holding on as their world. Nancy Green (Catherine Keener) is mother to four grown children, three girls and a boy, all of who suffer to some degree. Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) is the youngest and in therapy as she experiences sexually awakening. She occasionally takes her medications for bipolar disorder. Elisa (Riley Keough) is the middle girl, a troubled yet famous pop star estranged from her mother. Madeline (Annie Starke) is the eldest and she is a motherly type who is burdened by her role as a young caregiver. Maxwell (Anton Yelchin) is a gay man breaking down after an accident. They are all connected by pain.
Mental illness seems to have claimed three of Nancy’s our children, except one. For most of the movie, the focus is on Lily as we watch her jog, desire to lose her virginity to this guy named Davey (Austin Abrams) and deal with her mental illness which isn’t just bi-polarism but seemingly delusion as well. It is Lily who changes the possible lives of Max and Elisa in ways neither may be able to understand.
This is a film that is propelled by its characters and they are the best and the worst aspects of the film. Nancy is not only a widow but also some of her children question whether or not her friendship with Joanne (Maya Rudolph), their mother’s friend, might be queer. Elisa’s childhood justified being in therapy when she was 11 and now she is dealing with a schmuck of a boyfriend for reasons never explained. Max sort of came out to Lily when she was not even a teenager but took it back and has struggled with his sexuality ever since. Just in the first half hour of the film, we see him bleach his hair and attempt suicide since his possible lover killed himself. Lily is a teenager dealing with being bi-polar. For whatever reason, these stories fall short and we never get a complete tale of any of them.
The problem I had with the film is that each actor is so good that I wanted more screen time with each of them and I felt frustrated that the cast is, in fact, an ensemble. Here is a film that contains mental illness, the trauma of sexual assault, longstanding feuds, and one of the final performances of the late Anton Yelchin. Unfortunately, there’s just too much going on in writer-director Peer Pederson’s film making it come across as disjointed.
Lily’s hushed narration tries to provide the audience with context as to all the moving parts of the story. The most interesting relationship with Nancy is her friendship with Joanne (Maya Rudolph), who has had quite a bit of success in her life. The two women are each other confidants and there’s also a sexual overtone to their long-time friendship. This is interesting in that we learn later that Nancy has her own outdated attitudes towards homosexuality, and confesses that she wishes that her son Max isn’t gay.
We get Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles. Suffering from mental illness and physical injuries after an accident, has the film’s most emotional scenes and we see that his immense talents will be missed.
Peer Pedersen seems to be overwhelmed by the task of directing his own screenplay. He just doesn’t know how to effectively get all of it out onto the screen.
There are a number of fascinating ideas that hang by loose threads making it frustrating to watch because it just never really becomes anything more than a movie of unrealized potential. There’s an abruptness to the film’s ending that is quite bewildering and ineffective with regard to its intended emotional impact. The saddest truth of the film is the most emotional moment comes with the dedication to its late star before the start of the credits.