Miles Walton is a teen with a dream, one his principal indulges with a killer compliment. He makes little movies, works part time at the local three-screen cinema, and could be “the next Spielberg.”
If only he can get into a college in Chicago.
Miles has a fear, too. He tactlessly tosses that to his guidance counselor (Yeardley Smith).
“I’m afraid I’ll get stick here like everyone else!”
“Here” is Pondley, Illinois, the middle of nowhere. It’s 1999, and when Miles’ hated dad (Stephen Root) dies, having looted his college fund for a mistress, it’s just him, his vanishing dream and his depressed, rage-grieving Mom (Molly Shannon).
But Miles (Tim Boardman) develops a plan. A silly plan. A crazy one.
He’ll try to get a Loyola of Chicago scholarship. For volleyball. The fact that his school district doesn’t have boys’ volleyball team doesn’t stop him. The coach (Missi Pyle)?
“What the heck?”
Senior year’s going to be odd, to say the least, for Miles and his Mom.
Did I mention Miles is gay?
“Miles” is an unassuming little coming-of-age tale built around Miles’ increasingly controversial volleyball odyssey and his sexual experimenting via chat rooms and schoolteacher Mom’s burgeoning relationship with the school superintendent (Paul Reiser).
Boardman (of “The Wilde Wedding” and TV’s “Unsinkable Kimmy Schmidt”) has a likably gawky presence. He gives Miles a naive single-mindedness that never lets him see the hits he’s about to take — from parents, from his principal, his boss at the theater.
This 2016 film was one of the first hints that “SNL” veteran Shannon was poised for a grand second act in her career (“Divorce”). Here, she’s angry, despairing, barely clinging to hope but determined to do right by her son, who hasn’t quite come out to her.
The always-engaging Pyle makes a marvelously open-minded, tough-talking gym teacher — think Jane Lynch of “Glee!” without the psychosis.
That’s kind of a failing of the film, in the larger scheme of things. The little conflicts — Mom disagreeing with her new beau over Miles’ quest, school board debates over the meaning of Title IX, Miles’ online beau supporting him, and the nutty idea that he just might pull this off — never have the edge one wants out of a comedy of this well-worn genre.
The superintendent may exemplify small-town provincialism, with his stop “rocking the boat,” and “Save that crap for Chicago, or wherever.” But it’s Reiser, who reeks of Big City values.
The “heat” of that conflict is lukewarm, at best., the “romance” isn’t all that and the quest, to avoid becoming another “small-minded small-town…zombie,” nothing new.
The only “filmmaker” stuff in this is Miles swiping posters from his theater and selling them to classmates. In avoiding the comic low-hanging fruit, co-writer/director Nathan Adloff spares us the sight of Miles wearing women’s volleyball shorts (“coochie-cutters”), but steadily lets the air out of the ball over the course of “Miles.”
And yet he can’t resist a cheap, obvious Stephen Root “Office Space/News Radio” joke. That isn’t funny.
The warmth is here, some of it, any way. But not the laughs.
MPAA Rating: unrated, masturbation jokes, sex gags, profanity
Cast: Tim Boardman, Molly Shannon, Stephen Root, Missi Pyle, Yeardley Smith
Running time: 1:30