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Tribeca Film Festival: Navigating the Frats in “The Line”

If there is something that isn’t much in the way of new news for a long time; too many movies are delving into some very familiar territory. It’s been dominating the narrative selections so far at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When a writer/director can take a story we’ve all heard before, seen before, may have even lived before and present it in a fresh manner or support it with some great casting, then something worthwhile has been accomplished. The Line doesn’t re-invent the terrors and tragedies of the Greek house lifestyle of college campuses, it does have some good things to offer.

Tom Backster (Alex Wolff with an interesting spelling for this characters last name) when at home is a pretty quite, loving son. When he’s with his KNA frat brothers at school however, he is a rising star in the house full of booze, cocaine, and debauchery. After shining with the group in his freshman/pledge year, Tom is moving into the frat house and rooming with his equally party obsessed friend, Mitch Miller (Bo Mitchell).

Mitch isn’t the most well loved amongst the other brothers. He’s Tom’s best friend, but it’s obvious that the rest of the clan find him to be insufferable and only put up with him for the same reason they accepted him in the first place; he’s a legacy student with a powerful father. Mitch just rubs everyone the wrong way, especially a new freshman pledge, Getty’s O’Brien (Austin Abrams). As tensions rise between the two after their first meeting, rifts begin to form in the house as things get out of hand, quickly.

While the late 70s and 80s either glorified or made fun of the excesses of college fraternities, the past 20 years have certainly shown a steady feed of films that explore the dangers and life threatening features that can dominate the news cycles when tragedy does actually hit. Walking into The Line, you shouldn’t expect anything brand new, but what is delivered takes a slightly different road punctuated by a great performance from Alex Wolff.

Though both he and his brother Nat have been in a wide array of genres since breaking out of their Nickelodeon days, both Alex and Nat seem to have garnered their most fervent attention through horror films. And while The Line is a drama, it is almost a horror film itself and it is an amazing vehicle to show how much talent Alex Wolff has to deal out.

Though most of the film has him puffing out his chest in alpha-male glory, the gentler soul that we didn’t get to really see beforehand is bubbling up under the surface. By the time the camel’s back is broken, the wounded fawn that was hiding the whole time breaks out and watching him try to contain it and finally find balance with these two sides is fascinating to watch.

It’s a broken and unfocused string of metaphors that house the only real faults of The Line. During an early dinner scene between Tom and Mitch with Mitch’s parents played by Denise Richards and John Malkovich, Mitch’s father relays a story about calling someone like Mitch, “You never see a fish on the wall with its mouth closed.” That’s net verbatim, but represents the idea that Mitch can’t hold anything in and just mouths off with whatever stupid bit of information he knows. Even if that info could hurt someone.

Through out the movie, there are mounted fish. Even at the end when Tom finally comes full circle in his life. The metaphor at that point, which is placed dead center and is massive, doesn’t really fit any part of the narrative for any character involved. It felt more like an attempt to be clever and slick, even though it really didn’t fit the bill.

The Line isn’t a revelation in film making or story telling, but it isn’t a boring overly bloated tread over already familiar territory. Could someone else have done as good of a job or a better job than Alex Wolff to lead the film? Sure. But he does more than enough to keep The Line in a good light and out of a life lying on the bottom of a lake, suffocating in the cold dark.

Final Grade: B-

Matthew Schuchman
Matthew Schuchman
In the early 90s, while at the video store with his friends who wanted to rent Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead, Matthew asked the clerk if they had any copies of Naked Lunch available. A film buff from an early age, he would turn his fascination into his own review site in 2010; Movie Review from Gene Shalit’s Moustache. From there, he provided his voice to such publications as Den of Geek, Coming Soon, and Verbicide magazine as a film reviewer and talent interviewer.


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