Five years ago, writer-director A.J. Edwards made an impressive debut with “The Better Angels,” a poetic, naturalistic portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood. Though dismissed by some as a Terrence Malick knockoff — which was somewhat understandable, given that Edwards used to be Malick’s editor — the film showed a rare empathy for a sensitive child enduring hard times.
Edwards’ more contemporary follow-up “Age Out” (which played the festival circuit under the title “Friday’s Child”) is just as lovely to look at, but is also grittier and more grounded. The talented Tye Sheridan lends complexity and soul to the role of Richie, a Texas teen who grew up in foster care, and who struggles at age 18 to understand what he’s supposed to do with the rest of his life.
Edwards adopts more narrative rigor in his second film, though not always to its benefit. “Age Out” becomes a squarely conventional problem play as its hero veers back and forth between two worlds: the petty crime and cheap thrills of his pal Swim (Caleb Landry Jones), and the ritzier social circle of Joan (Imogen Poots), a grieving young woman he meets by chance.
Still, as with “The Better Angels,” Edwards’ new movie is magnificently impressionistic, with Colin Stetson’s rhythmic score and Jeff Bierman’s sun-dappled cinematography making Richie’s life seem as wondrous as it is hard. This kid may not be another Abe Lincoln, but he has a lot of heart, beating just below his crusty surface.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 22, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD