Telling a gently unfolding story of two unhoused teenage lovers living with drug addiction on the streets of Eugene, the locally produced feature film Maxie took home a slew of awards from the 2021 Lulea Film Festival in Sweden, including Best Feature, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best First-time Director for filmmaker Jarrett Bryant, who also wrote the script.
Something like On the Waterfront (1954) or the Eminem-vehicle Eight Mile (2002) for the West Coast meth epidemic, Maxie is a tough-love letter to the socio-economic width and breadth of Lane County. And, of course, whenever there are doomed teenage lovers, some sense of Romeo and Juliet is also sure to follow.
Miles Dixon plays Maxie, a privileged kid with a nuclear family from the south hills of Eugene who is living on the streets and mixed up on drugs and alcohol. His girlfriend Sidney is played by Liv Tavernier. These are the first leading roles in a feature film for the two local actors, though Tavernier has played minor parts in a few other locally produced projects.
Sidney comes from a very different background than Maxie, a small trailer in Springfield and a family divided by trauma.
After Maxie finds himself on the wrong side of Sidney’s combative and protective brother Nathan, played with wild-eyed fury by Malakhai Schnell, the movie explodes in a taut and tragic third act, resolving, eventually, with some redemption for at least one of the surviving main characters.
After screening the film, I spoke with Bryant, the director. He says that although the leads in his movie come from “different sides of the tracks,” he wants to challenge assumptions about how that social privilege might affect the outcome.
He also wants to tell the story of two teenagers suffering substance abuse issues without resorting to dogma or cliché.
But as much as Maxie is about drug addiction, it’s also about two young people coming to terms with themselves, Bryant explains — the kind of story he’s seen play out repeatedly since moving to Eugene from L.A. about a decade ago.
“I’ve encountered a lot of young people who come from diverse backgrounds in Eugene, a lot of them struggle with addiction,” Bryant says. “Some kids get clean and go back home,” he continues, “and I’ve seen others who are struggling.”
Bryant went on to say that many relationships he’s observed among young unhoused people in Eugene are contingent on drug use.
“When someone reveals to you who they are,” he says, as the characters in Maxie do over the course of the movie, “you need to listen and make your decision to be with them or not be with them, versus wishing and hoping they might change.”
This is a hard lesson all young lovers must learn, and for that reason Maxie is not just a Eugene story, “it’s an any-town story,” Bryant says.
With gritty digital cinematography from Henry Huntington depicting many familiar locations through the Eugene-Springfield area — primarily in and around the railroad tracks cutting through downtown Eugene and the Whiteaker neighborhood, near Washington-Jefferson park — Maxie is cast with local actors and actresses, all delivering quality performances.
Filming began a few weeks before pandemic lockdown, and large portions of the script were rewritten to accommodate safe distancing. Production wrapped up over the spring and summer.
Maxie does take some time to find its rhythm, and some writing is a little wooden, particularly with minor characters like a hectoring local resident Sid and Maxie encounter downtown. But it does get many things right — about youth, but also about life in Eugene. Eugene’s a small town, it’s said at several points in the film. “Not that small,” characters respond, and who hasn’t had that conversation, living here for any length of time?
In this way, Maxie is not just a coming-of-age story for Maxie and Sid, but a portrait of a town in love with its own history as a sleepy college enclave while failing to reckon with its own future as a city, and the many people caught in between. ν
Currently screening at film festivals — earning the Award of Recognition (Feature Film) from IndieFEST, and official selections at the Seattle Black Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival and Hollywood Blvd Film Festival, among others — Maxie is not currently available to watch, but Bryant hopes to see it offered for general viewing sometime this year.