Tracey Deer’s semi-autobiographical piece Beans is an emotional message regarding the racial violence that indigenous communities have gone through. There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate within her first feature, but we are left with a film that has just too much going on.
Twelve-year-old Beans or Tekehentahkwa (Kiawentiio) is on the edge: torn between innocent childhood and reckless adolescence. Forced to grow up fast and become the tough Mohawk warrior she needed to be during the Oka Crisis, the turbulent Indigenous uprising that tore Quebec and Canada apart for 78 days in the summer of 1990.
Kiawentiio is a wonderful revelation as our young lead. Usually, in these forms of coming-of-age stories, she would be typified as a wide-eyed character who encounters this new group as well as the difficult situation she and her people are presented with. Instead, Deer has allowed for a more mature character, and Kiawentiio takes that character with both hands and makes the very best with it. She is controlled in her performance as the unsure teen, questioning everything she knows or thinks she knows and even her own future. It is such a strong performance from the young actress, and we should hope to see far more of her down the line.
Flitting in throughout Beans is archive TV footage of the standoff between the two communities and helps highlight the Oka crisis once more, especially for audiences who may not have known about it. So seeing how events were actually going down in 1990 is quite harrowing, and it is there when the film is most compelling. Unfortunately, it falters when the film tries to spread itself just a tad too thin, the story of the standoff—beans own story of trying to figure out her own identity. The underscored battle of parents wanting the best for their aspirational child all while they commit to the standoff in various ways. This isn’t even adding in a lot of the smaller and no less important subplots that are presented. It is just too much for such a short runtime.
This leaves Beans feeling strained under its own pressure, and as such, it struggles to keep itself together. There is a reason why there are so few coming-of-age stories set during such striking political events. If a version of Beans focused more on the character herself, it would work marvellously. By keeping so much in and never relenting in that fact, we lose some of the punch that Beans feels like it wants to give its audience. However, this is a film that still connects with the audience thanks to its willing cast and the strength in Deer as a filmmaker. It is just a shame that it tripped over itself as it is a film that has something very important to say.
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