My Best Worst Adventure (2020) review

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After the death of her mother, a rebellious Thai-American girl is sent to live with her grandmother in rural Thailand by her stepfather. Here she befriends a mute peasant boy and inspires him to compete in an annual Buffalo Race in Joel Soisson’s My Best Worst Adventure.

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On first viewing My Best Worst Adventure, I was extremely impressed by the overall quality of the film – the visuals and camera work were absolutely superb. I knew from the first minute that this film had clearly been made by someone with film experience. After some brief research, I discovered that the film’s director and writer Joel Soisson had been working in Hollywood for over 40 years.

Soisson has had a very full and varied career, working on loads of independent Hollywood productions, while undertaking all sorts of different jobs on a film set.

Starting as a boom operator on 1980s To All A Goodnight, Soisson has since worked in the art department, as a production assistant, a camera operator, a second unit director, as well as a producer, screenwriter, and director.

Soisson has also had a creative hand in many different cult classics and famous franchises including Maniac Cop, Trick Or Treat, The Prophecy, Hellraiser, Highlander, Children of The Corn, Hollow Man, and Mimic. I would guess that his most successful gig though would have been as a producer on the 1989 classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

My Best Worst Adventure is as far away from any of Soisson’s previous productions as it could possibly get, a coming of age drama along the lines of Nic Roeg’s Walkabout and Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople, with nods to Seabiscuit and National Velvet. It’s an absolute treat of a movie that, despite its familiar themes and ending you can see coming a mile away, is so stylistically compelling and drenched in beautiful images of the villages, plains, and jungles of rural Thailand, that the obviousness simply doesn’t matter.

The film also happens to be thoroughly entertaining and sneakily profound, with the adventure story components merging with fairy tales and fantasy elements to create a mixture that gives the audience some real emotional pull towards the film’s final act. You will have something in your eye on more than one occasion during the movie’s 85-minute runtime.

Actor Lily Patra, in what should be a star-making performance, plays Jenny – a Thai American teenager who, after the death of her mother, becomes so erratic, troubled, and difficult that her stepfather has no option but to send her to Thailand to live with her Grandma. Living in a foreign land with people she hardly knows means Jenny has even more difficulty fitting in and inevitably clashes with the locals. After a run-in with bullies, which also includes the teachers, adults, and other children, Jenny meets a mute peasant boy Boonrod, played by Pan Rugtawatr, another star in the making, who is an outcast in his own village. He introduces her to his only friend – a buffalo, and the two outsiders forge a bond that ends up with an exciting buffalo race that changes their lives forever.

There is some amazing aerial cinematography during the movie by Roberto Serrini that shows Thailand in all its expanse and beauty, while Cinematographer Vardhana Wanchuplao captures even the small moments with a sense of the epic and transformative. The editing by director Soisson also plays its part in telling us how we should read the movie; Soisson orientates the audience’s mood and tone which helps to enhance the entire film and gets us fully engaged in Jenny from the start.MBWA - Vertical Fnl - web sized

The major set-piece of the Buffalo race does not disappoint either, with a great tracking shot that follows the riders and their animals all the way. We start behind them, catch up, and then fly past them at what seems like great speed and also great danger. Soisson directs this scene with pure virtuosity and we feel like we are right in the middle of the race alongside the characters. There is also a great crowd-pleasing moment that involves a kiss which guarantees to raise a smile.

My Best Worst Adventure is epic and fun, but also very human. When Soisson pushes the emotion it is in small, simple ways that actually make it much more powerful. It’s poignant in a way that other more manipulative films simply are not.

My Best Worst Adventure deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, and I hope Joel Soisson goes on to make more films like this and garner the credit and acclaim that this film tells me he so richly deserves.

5 / 5 stars     

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