Frybread Face & Me is an Endearing Coming-of-Age Story on the Rez | Review

Billy Luther’s Frybread Face and Me is a more subtle coming-of-age story set on a Reservation, but brings the charm. Read on for our full review.

Debuting earlier this year at SXSW, Frybread Face and Me hits the masses thanks to Array (select theaters) and Netflix for Native American Heritage Day! Billed as a coming-of-age drama, the film puts the focus on Benny (Keir Tallman), an 11-year old sent to spend the Summer with his grandmother on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

Frybread Face and Me
Directed By: Billy Luther
Written By: Billy Luther
Starring: Kier Tallman, Charley Hogan, Martin Sensmeir, Kahara Hodges
Release Date: November 24, 2023 in select theaters and streaming on Netflix

Coming from the city in California, it’s obviously a massive adjustment for him, as he knows little about life on the Rez and his heritage in general. He doesn’t speak the Navajo language, which is all his grandmother communicates in. As such, it feels more like a punishment to Benny than anything else, until the arrival of his cousin, “Frybread Face” (Charley Hogan) begins to turn things around.

They are very different. Benny knows little of his own heritage (even snidely referred to as a “city Indian”), while Fry has lived entirely on the Rez, immersed in their culture. In their own ways, however, each of them are very emblematic of the hardships modern Native Americans have long struggled with.

In Benny, you see the problems inherent for Natives who ventured far from the Rez to get away from that life. Conversely, Fry showcases the alternate perspective where drug use, and crime tear families apart and leave others to pick up the pieces. That’s not to say ALL of us fall into those positions, but they are definitely issues every tribe has had to deal with over the last few decades.

Despite their differences—or maybe because of them—the pair form a close bond throughout their time together. As the Summer rolls along, Benny comes to learn/enjoy more about his Native ancestry, and thus become more accepting of himself along the way.

The film plays out in a slice-of-life style, as an older Benny narrates through the gaps in time. By and large…that type of storytelling just isn’t for me. I’m a basic kinda dude, and like an overarching plot line. That said, the sheer endearing nature of the characters/actors pulled me along and touched me in surprising ways.

Namely, I was impressed with how the film handles heavier topics with a light touch. Here and there we see other aspects of Benny’s life he must contend with, a queer identity that is ever-present even at a young age. The way it comes across is subtle. Putting audiences in the mindset of an 11 year who doesn’t quite understand these things/concepts. A slow realization that they don’t exactly fit into any particular mold.

The are a number of big issues the film touches on, all of which utilize that deft touch. They aren’t hammering them into you on the screen, and the quiet way they’re approached forces you to dwell on them more than normal. It’s an impressive way of doing it, all while keeping the focus on these two young characters, who you desperately want to see thrive despite the circumstances thrown at them.

The result is a heartfelt coming of age story that manages to keep you engaged throughout the run time, and leaving you wanting more (in a good way). While I personally don’t like this brand of storytelling, I was impressed with all it managed to achieve, and the strength of the child actors.

From the Native perspective, it hits all the right notes and it felt like I was looking through a window into my own past. I could easily see my own relatives reflected back at me during Benny’s journey. It doesn’t sugarcoat some of the worst aspects of being on a reservation, but nor does it over-embellish them either. Once again, Billy Luther uses a lighter touch to convey these aspects to the audiences; making the experience all the more authentic.

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Jordan Maison
Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.