The United States of Leland (2003)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Prison Film, Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Apr 2, 2004 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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The Believer's Ryan Gosling plays another troubled teen in The United States of Leland, but there's a huge gulf in realism between the two roles. Gosling's skinhead Danny Balint may have been hard to watch, but he was always "believe"-able, as it were. Gosling's Leland Fitzgerald is a much more pleasant misfit, a sensitive intellectual who voices life observations in a placid suburban drawl. But he kills the mentally handicapped brother of his girlfriend for reasons he can't explain, which makes his character kind of bogus, a cinematic construct put in place to propel an experiment involving the vagaries of teen angst and family dysfunction. The United States of Leland certainly gets caught up in concept at the expense of execution, but writer/director Matthew Ryan Hoge does probe some interesting if overburdened ideas in his chosen topic. Hoge's evident talent excuses some of his foolhardy rookie ambitiousness, salvaging what was considered a mild failure even in its most favorable notices. Producer Kevin Spacey has assembled an able cast, including an underdog performer submitting his personal best: American Pie's Chris Klein, previously considered a vapid Keanu Reeves type, who muscles up for some nuanced work. Don Cheadle and Spacey himself are also effective, playing, respectively, the juvy teacher who's counseling/exploiting Leland and his arrogantly absent novelist father, who doomed Leland to view fractured human relationships with a sadness that eventually overwhelms him. In the cinema of post-Columbine teen wackos, The United States of Leland shares more territory with a thoughtful character study like Donnie Darko (including actress Jena Malone) than a randomness-of-it-all project like Gus Van Sant's Elephant. Unfortunately, the fact that it's stagy to the point of distraction limits its usefulness.