Two coming-of-age dramas present a stark contrast in quality.
Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Mo Ogrodnik
Stars: Shiloh Fernandez, Haley Bennet, Josh Salatin, Colby Minifie, Logan Miller, Dana Eskelson
Running time: 91 minutes
Deep Powder, the feature debut from NYC-based writer-director Mo Ogrodnik, is two films rolled into one, and one is much better than the other. The superior half comes first, an intimate and affecting work of generic but well-performed young love. Living in a snow-covered New England town, Danny (Shiloh Fernandez) works at a ski lift in order to save money, go to college, and play hockey, since his widowed mother doesn't make enough to send him to a university and take care of his two younger siblings. He's a working class, kind-hearted dude, a nice guy who gets blindsided by the beautiful, free-spirited Natasha (Haley Bennet), a privileged private school student whose snooty, similarly wealthy friends look down upon Danny's kind. Sparks fly, nonetheless.
Buoyed by strong performances from Fernandez and Bennet, Deep Powder nails the characters' intense romance. There's a melancholy atmosphere lends a poingnancy to their relationship, one that Ogrodnik captures sharply by offsetting their passionate interactions with surrounding forces that don't want them to make it. A scene in which Natasha plays one of Danny's late father's precious vinyl records, which his mother forbids anyone to touch, is indicative of their situation—as Natasha and Danny dance on his mother's bed to old-school rock, they feel untouchable, yet when his mom angrily breaks up the fun and kicks Natasha out of her house, the tragic nature of their connection brings them back to reality. Bennet's fragile, crushed reaction—a night-and-day switch from her character's typically self-confident demeanor—is a heartbreaker.
This is where Deep Powder is leading to all along, stuck with a "based on true events" angle that's driven home by grainy, VHS-quality confessionals from Danny's and Natasha's friends and family, not unlike the technique used in the 2006 teen crime drama Alpha Dog. When she's not spending time with Danny, Natasha is hanging out with her fellow members of the Deep Powder Alpine Country Club, a skiing society that's actually harboring an illegal secret: Once a year, they send two members down to South America to score cocaine. And, yes, that plot point feels just as random in the movie as it does here.
Deep Powder's transition into Blow territory is poorly established; not for one second do any of the students or Danny (whom Natasha brings along with her for the run) come across as kids who'd ever willingly take $35,000 down to Ecuador to negotiate drug deals with dangerous, non-English-speaking sellers. The damaging juxtaposition plays like the bizarre, unwanted mash-up of ABC Family characters and Traffic that's awkward as it's trying to be riveting. Nor is Ogrodnik able to stage the narcotic scenes with any palpable tension, and as Deep Powder heads towards its inevitably unpleasant conclusion, the intended impact is diluted. What starts off as an emotionally rich, above-average love story devolves into a strained and unconvincing tragedy.