Dysfunctional family films tend to work a lot better if there is at least one character to ground the extremeness of the rest. While We Don’t Belong Here does afford the film one family member not suffering from a traumatic past, addiction, or mental illness, but it also happens to be the most inconsequential of characters. Even more troubling is the film’s overall lack of direction, mistaking scenes of quirky character traits as an adequate replacement for plot. The characters may be well developed and played by talented actors, which make it even more of a shame that filmmaker Peer Pedersen doesn’t know what to do with them.
The Green family is run by matriarch Nancy (Catherine Keener), though we don’t see much of her strength as the film begins with the disappearance of her only son, Max (Anton Yelchin). Max has mental health issues, as do two of
’s three daughters. When his mental
instability leads to a harrowing accident that lands Max in a hospital, Nancy begins to fall
apart with the uncertainty of her missing son. There is never a valid
explanation as to why the son of a well-off family is admitted to a hospital
without his mother being informed of his whereabouts, but We Don’t Belong Here
is rarely concerned with the logic behind its melodrama. Nancy
Although much of the narrative hinges upon Max, and the film upon Yelchin’s performance, he actually serves a fairly passive role in the story. The three Green daughters have a much more active participation in the plot, though Pedersen is clearly more interested in focusing on the two with mental issues to overcome. Madeline (Annie Starke) is the only well-adjusted family member, and is given very little consideration as a result. Instead, we spend much of the film in the brooding company of bipolar youngest daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) and successful musician Elisa (Riley Keough). Lily moodily trains to be a runner when she isn’t considering losing her virginity to a classmate and attending therapy sessions. Despite being a hugely successful pop star, Elisa seems to spend most of her time holed up in an expensive home with her abusive boyfriend (Justin Chatwin).
There is an answer for why both Elisa and Max are so mentally unstable, and it lies in a secret past involving a neighbor (Cary Elwes) who has suddenly re-appeared. There is no explanation as to his whereabouts for the many years since their childhood, and giving a specific cause for Max and Elisa’s instability doesn’t do much to explain why Lily appears to have just as much trouble as her siblings, despite having no secret in her past. Again, this is the missing logic that runs rampant in Pedersen’s film, which he wrote as well as directed. The first time filmmaker seems primarily interested in his characters and the performances by the actors playing them, so it is a shame that he doesn’t give them compelling or realistic scenarios to exist in.
The DVD release includes no special features.
Entertainment Value: 4.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5/10
Historical Significance: 3/10
Special Features: 0/10