I believe we’re currently in the golden era of coming-of-age movies. We’ve had terrific movies like The Edge of Seventeen, Lady Bird, Booksmart, Banana Split, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. And now, here’s Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, a film that attempts (mostly successfully) to add the big supernatural element of secretly being a sea creature to the teenage experience.
Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor) is a 16-year-old girl desperately trying hard to fit in. Her mother Agatha (Toni Collette) has the strict rule of never going into the ocean, but when she does, Ruby finds out the ocean turns her into a giant sea creature, and she has family living underwater that she never knew about. This makes her feel even more like an outcast, but she finds friendship with another teen girl named Chelsea (Annie Murphy) who’s secretly a mermaid.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken isn’t as solid as the coming-of-age films that inspired it. The director has previously stated that the film was inspired by the likes of Lady Bird and Booksmart. But even with all its flaws, its heart still shines bright, and Ruby’s journey of growing up and finding herself still resonates deeply.
The second half, especially, is when this film truly shines. Teenage Kraken’s first half is a little too concerned with highly exaggerated movements and cartoonish humor, which is quite jarring considering its high school setting. Once you accept the fact that this is a DreamWorks version of a coming-of-age tale, you accept the bonkers nature of its humor a lot more.
A good majority of the jokes will work depending on your tolerance for DreamWorks-esque humor. However, the second half is so concerned with the momentum of its plot that the jokes become more and more infrequent.
This leads to the film’s biggest problem — it’s too fast-paced. Never to the point of exhaustion, but several moments could’ve worked better had the film spent just one or two more minutes allowing for more static shots and silence from the characters. Coming-of-age is a genre that benefits greatly from a lot of quiet introspection — something the film needed a bit more of.
Still, the fast pace means the film is never boring. Even exposition scenes are flashy and fast, and during the more easygoing moments, you know something exciting is always around the corner.
The excitement doesn’t get in the way of the warmth, though. Ruby’s coming-of-age is treated with so much affection and tenderness and Ruby herself is a likable and empathetic character. The strong focus on her familial relationships, especially with the women in her life, allows for great empathy not just for Ruby, but everyone in her life too.
Speaking of female relationships, the friendship scenes between Ruby and Chelsea are downright breathtaking. The stellar animation definitely helps, but you can also see and feel how much comfort Ruby finds in Chelsea. It’s a special kind of magic to find someone who makes you feel a little less odd and alone. Even if the film makes it clear mermaids can’t be trusted, it doesn’t matter. This friendship is real to Ruby and pushes her to explore not just the ocean, but also herself.
Plenty of kids are going to find comfort in Ruby’s story as well as Ruby herself. Being a teenager is confusing, awkward, and tough, whether you’re secretly a sea creature or not. However, at its best moments, it can also be beautiful and triumphant as you learn more about yourself and the strength inside you.
Even adults are going to find themselves moved by Ruby’s growth and might even get flashbacks of when they were Ruby’s age. If you’re a sucker for the coming-of-age genre, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a must-watch, even if it’s not as solid as the many coming-of-age films of the past ten years.
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While not every joke lands and the film needs to slow down more, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is another sweet and triumphant story about the difficulties of adolescence, one that’ll have you rooting for its title character throughout.
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