I’m not generally one for “meets” metaphors, but I’m going to venture one here. Natives is like Curb Your Enthusiasm meets The People’s History of the United States of America.
The film follows Rachel, a white, jewish New Yorker, and her girlfriend Anita, who’s Native American, as they go home to visit Anita’s (also Native) parents for the weekend. As Rachel tries to show her interest in Native American culture, her relationship with Anita slowly unravels.
Natives uses its cringe-inducing comedy to explore difficult emotional and political territory. The film allows us to sympathize with Rachel, but remains unafraid to eviscerate her flaws as well. What results is the kind of humanist, antagonist-free storytelling (Mike Leigh comes to mind), that appeals to young filmmakers but is very difficult to pull off.
There are two essential components to a protagonist who is their own worst enemy; the first is creating audience empathy with the character, the second is finding stellar actors. Natives succeeds on both fronts. There is not a single off moment in these performances, and this is damn difficult material. The four leads blend like a Beethoven string quartet, building on each other with increasing urgency as we reach a ragged climax.
That climax would lose its poignancy without the comedic beats upfront. The awkwardness had me pacing around my small office while watching. When the film was over I suddenly realized that I was sitting. The final scenes actually made me sit down. It is in these final moments that the film transcends its humble roots and forces us to ask difficult questions about who we are and why we love. While the film (thankfully) avoids giving us any answers, it demonstrates an ability to perfectly state the questions.
It does so with humanism and craft, which help those questions linger long after the film ends.