March 4, 2022 | LIFE | By Hannah Van Zandt | Illustration by Kira Schulist

With many coming-of-age and teen-centered movies available, it is increasingly difficult to find films that are relatable and accurate in their depictions of teenage life. They often create a perfect narrative with happy endings and use slang that feels forced and unnatural. “The Fallout,” a feature debut by Megan Park, is a breath of fresh air, perfectly capturing what it means to grow up in the Gen Z era, while also experiencing grief, trauma, and the different ways people process these emotions.

Starring Jenny Ortega, who plays the character Vada, the movie begins with everyday high school life. Vada meets her best friend Nick to grab some Starbucks on their way to school.

Later on at school, while in the bathroom, shots fire around campus. Vada hides in the stall with Mia (Maddie Ziegler), the popular girl, and is later joined by another peer, Quinton (Niles Finch), who is covered in blood after seeing his brother get shot.

This experience bonds these characters, especially Vada and Mia, while the other relationships present in Vada’s life falter.

She navigates her trauma through experimenting with drugs and alcohol, in contrast to her friend Nick, who starts advocating for gun safety and doesn’t seem to understand why Vada acts the way she does.

This film does a beautiful job of combining grief with humor without taking away the weight of the subject matter. Nothing is too dark to take in, and funny and heartwarming moments create the perfect balance.

Handling grief in a film is difficult, but this film executes the concept of grief in a way that shows how to juggle the continuation of life along with what trauma one has experienced.  

Jenny Ortega’s performance in this role is phenomenal. Personally, the film inspired me to follow her future work. Vada’s emotional range is evident, and this movie is a testament to Ortega’s strong and capable acting abilities.

She performs the emotions that Vada goes through but still manages to maintain the teenager-ness of it all. She is likable and a pleasure to watch, as are the other characters. All the teenagers in this movie are played by teenagers, which makes everything much more vulnerable to witness. 

The ending of this movie didn’t have a definitive conclusion, to the point where viewers may not realize that it was in fact the end. Looking back, however, I can appreciate this. There is no right way to end this film with all the trauma that is witnessed by Vada.

Ending it “satisfyingly” would diminish the purpose of the movie,  and it wouldn’t it make sense to show how grief “ends,” because that is not how it works. The ending is a jumping-off point for how there are still many layers and steps to cope with what she has endured, which makes this story stronger and even more realistic.

‘The Fallout’ is available to watch on HBO Max.

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