Come for the title, stay for the charming family indie.
Something I love to do at festivals is check out a film based simply on the title alone, and Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out was one of those films. It’s the latest fromdirector Jake Van Wagoner (Christmas Time, “Studio C”) and writer Austin Everett, and recently screened at Sundance in the Kids track. The film just really impressed me not only with its spirit, but with its two charismatic young leads who help engage the audience in the larger-than-life premise.
Aliens Abducted My Parents stars Emma Tremblay (Wonder, Elysium), as Itsy, your standard surly artsy teenager. She was recently uprooted from NYC when her eccentric but loving parents bought a fixer-upper in the small town of Pebble Falls. On her first day of school she meets the town eccentric, a high schooler named Calvin (Jacob Buster) who is rarely seen without his homemade space suit and believes his parents were abducted by aliens. Being the new girl, Itsy is then instantly recruited by the local hometown mean girl to help her write an essay on the “weird thing in their town” (Calvin) to win an internship in NYC.
Looking to get out of Pebble Falls, Itsy jumps at the chance. But as she spends more time with Calvin, she begins to see through the “weird kid” veneer and discovers a real kinship with the brilliant teen who also wants to leave Pebble Falls (and also the world). Through Itsy and her little brother Evan (Kenneth Cummins), we get to know the closed-off Calvin as Itsy not only begins to fall for the handsome outsider, but helps him uncover the truth about his family.
Aliens Abducted My Parents leaves behind the stereotypes you’re probably used to in a YA film like this, and instead imbues these teens with a real sense of authenticity and sincerity to tackle the themes of being different without talking down to the viewer or softening the edges.
This is accomplished thanks to a sublime cast. Tremblay and Buster not only have a palpable PG chemistry onscreen but are just a joy to watch on their own. When you usually watch family indies like this, you will get a few performances that don’t quite rise to the occasion (a game I play is guessing which one of the actors is a child of the producer), but here, even the “annoying little brother” character here is actually pretty damn good. Those performances come because Van Wagoner and Everett actually give every character a function and a personality, rather than simply being a cardboard cut out enabling a trope.
Aliens Abducted is a charming family sci-fi frolic that has a lesson to teach and delivers it with a spoonful of sugar. I came for the title, but I really ended up digging this indie and genuinely caring about these characters and their journeys. Aliens Abducted My Parents swings hard with its final act and manages to stick a landing that’s thankfully not a cheat or a cop-out; given the premise, I had been wondering how they would play it. But rest assured, you’re in confident hands as, the film seamlessly melds family melodrama, comedy, sci-fi, and high school politics with a deft and empathetic hand. I also have a feeling we will no doubt be seeing more of our young stars, given how much both Tremblay and Buster have that immediately watchable presence onscreen.