It’s rare to find films about kids that don’t feel completely false. After all, the Hollywood kid is a hyperliterate, squeaky clean anomaly that seems like some sort of specimen created in a Disney Channel lab rather than a living, breathing hormone-raging adolescent. I guess that’s why Corey Aumiller’s Grill Dog feels so refreshing. Part coming-of-age tale, part comedy of errors, part heavy emotional drama, it’s a film that depicts kids (specifically a brotherly relationship) in a way that is both engaging and honest. And, by honest, I mean lots of profanity and juvenile humor.
The plot is simple enough. A horned-up 12-year-old on vacation with his parents attempts to sneak off resort property to find a mystical “titty waterfall.” His little brother, of course, tags along for the ride. However, what starts as a screwball adventure slowly descends into something much darker. Aumiller masterfully transforms his short from crudeness to serious drama. Tonally, it’s a tricky balancing act that somehow manages to work. Once the dramatic shift happens (no spoilers here), the film packs an emotional wallop.
Grill Dog also really captures the essence of what it’s like to be a kid who wants desperately to be an adult. You know, it’s that weird Bar Mitzvah-ish age where you still like kid things, but understand that there is a bigger, more mature world out there. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is obviously a well-traversed cinematic territory, but there’s a reason for that: it’s universally relatable. Aumiller harnesses that inherent empathy and captures something that is profound because it’s so specific.
As he relates to Short of the Week via e-mail:
“I wanted to tell a good story that hit people on an emotional level! Good storytelling is about finding an incredibly small, specific detail and expanding it into a universally relatable story. At its heart, Grill Dog is about a kid who has to give up on his preconceived notions of adulthood. We all had a moment in our lives where our lens shifted from blissful child to cognizant adult. It sucked. It was hard. It hurt. This movie asks its audience to go through all of those emotions.”
There’s the old adage in filmmaking: never work with children and animals. Well, Aumiller chose to make a film featuring both. Fortunately, his child leads are both excellent with subtle, strong performances that mirror the film’s stylistic shift.
Truth be told, I wish the film’s ending landed a bit more. To me it came off as a somewhat unsatisfying cliffhanger. Nevertheless, the journey getting there is impeccably crafted. Beyond that, on a conceptual level, I understand what Aumiller is after. His main character has gone through an experience. He’s learning that there are consequences to his actions that he has to be mature enough to ultimately face. To put it simply: he’s growing up.