Burn Your Maps review: if the kid from Room wants to be Mongolian, let him

2 months, 17 days ago

Jacob Tremblay and Vera Farmiga( as his understanding mother) are irresistible in this strange narrative, premiering at Toronto, of a young son with goats on the brain its simply a dishonor the film isnt as interested in the locals as they are

Few actors working in Hollywood today have a more expressive face than Vera Farmiga. With a crooked smile or a somewhat tilted head, she has the uncanny ability to convey complex emotions in even the briefest reaction shoot. Lucky we are, then, that this newest movie, Burn Your Maps, offers a rich character, roiled in commotion, and plopped in an extraordinary situate. This isnt to say this movie is a masterpiece, but its one that doesnt only tug on the heartstrings it yanks on them like a streetcar passenger afraid hell miss his stop.

We open in suburban Chicago, where young Wes( Jacob Tremblay) has for some reason become fascinated with everything Mongolian. He watches YouTube videos, is teaching himself the language, listens to throat-singing and takes his older sisters Uggs and builds them into shepherds boots. Its all very cute, and images of him riding around on his bicycle with goats and eagles made from toilet paper are adorable.

Our first glimpse of Wes parents Alise( Vera Farmiga) and Connor( Marton Csokas) is in a brutal couples therapy conference. They are still shellshocked from the loss of their baby daughter, and its here where writer-director Jordan Roberts( screenwriter behind Big Hero 6 and March of the Penguins) makes a gutsy selection. Despite eventual triumphant sequences of a euphoric son riding a horse at magic hour, this isnt an average kids cinema; the first scene of dialogue involves a conversation about oral gratification, but in a non-lascivious route. Im no child psychologist, but I guess the route its done here is perfectly okay.

Wess infatuation with Mongolia reaches the point where he only feels comfortable in traditional nomadic garb.( A subsequently zing comes when we learn most working goat herders on the Steppes actually wear jeans and ballcaps .) He begins referring to Mongolia as home and soon Connor, always in a suit and tie, decides to put an end to this foolishness. Alise, who teaches English as a second language to immigrants, is just happy to see the son excited about something. Soon Wes befriends one of Alises students, Ismail( Suraj Sharma ), who has aspirations to be a documentary film-maker. One videotapeed testimonial afterwards and surreptitious crowdfunding scheme afterwards and Ismail, Alise and Wes are off to Mongolia for a return.


Burn Your Maps, despite the best intents, is as orientalist as it comes. While respectful of Mongolian customs and beliefs, it is undeniable that it exploits everything about the country and uses it to help a group of well-off white people get their groove back. For some, this will stimulate the movie wholly off-putting, and it is hard to argue against that. For a long stretch in Mongolia they dont even fulfill any Mongolians! Their coterie includes a retired nun( Virginia Madsen) and a driver/ guide who is a self-described Puerto Rican from New York( Ramn Rodrguez) who plays salsa music as they ride through the very photogenic locations.

We can debate if Burn Your Maps merely fetishises a different culture or holds it in true reverence, but Id like to give it the benefit of the doubt. If nothing else, the performances are terrific all around. Jacob Tremblay is just the sweetest kid there is and Farmiga is in superior form as a mourning mom who wants nothing more than for her surviving children to be happy. Csokas, ostensibly the villain, is still quite sympathetic, wanting so much to reconnect with the wife who merely wants him to leave her alone. The family attorney sessions( led by a very funny Valerie Planche) are some of the more intriguing Ive seen in quite some time, and, lets be honest, this is usually just a screenwriting crutch to get exposition out.

Mental health jargon bleeds over into every day family life, and the family is upfront about everything except, naturally, the root of their pain. A life-affirming journey to a far off land may be a bit far-fetched, but this is the movies. Well take any kind of mending we can get.

Read more: www.theguardian.com