Jacob’s review published on Letterboxd:
I didn’t like this as I watched it, but with every mile of distance between me and the theater on my drive home, it got even worse. There were a handful of five- to to ten-minute-long stretches that I felt were captivating and well made, but the feeling of investment was always punished by a bizarre narrative turn.
Though I found this to be stylistically abrasive from the opening shots, I was very on board for a story about a father who pushes his son too hard for the sake of giving him a better life. I was on board for a story about a neglected child, lost in her sibling’s shadow. I was on board for a story about a family that struggles to survive. I was on board for anything, but I got nothing. Nothing is developed well or explored with any genuine sense of intrigue. We got pieces of everything, broken fragments that do not in any way come together. The second hour has some of the better moments in terms of filmmaking, and though I was initially charmed by a few, none of it redeems what came before it. The tonal shifts could not be more jarring, and the random aspect ratio changes exacerbate that. I’ve seen and liked Shults’ previous work — I get what he likes to play with, but this is an amalgamation of all his worst creative choices.
I cannot wrap my head around how bad some of these scenes are. Even beyond my plentiful thematic issues (numerous critics have already discussed the mistreatment of racial identity in the film), I just thought scene to scene, this was not made well. It’s painfully self-serious all the time, and it ends up being hilarious in the worst way. From a melodramatic fight over text message to a cringeworthy family bonding scene by a lake, moments of intense emotion feel devoid of any and all truth.
Call this a reductive take if you must, but this is a 2-hour music video with a vague storyline. The musical montages are overlong and do little to further the story, yet we get plenty of them because Shults thought making a movie would be more fun than making a playlist on Spotify. The way the music cuts in is just silly, and it’s a particularly weird choice for a film where not one character seems to have any interest in music.