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“Kindling” review: The positively human feature will leave you in tears

The Phoenix Film Festival is off to an exciting start with shorts, documentaries, and feature films being screened at Harkins Theaters Scottsdale 101. One such film is “Kindling,” the feature film debut of writer and director Connor O’Hara. I had the opportunity to watch it on its final day of screening.

The Real Beauty of the Characters

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Built off of O’Hara’s previous short film “Infinite,” “Kindling” follows a group of young men returning to their hometown in hopes of turning their friend’s final days into a celebration of life and companionship. The young men, Sid (George Somner), Diggs (Wilson Mbomio), Dribble (Conrad Khan), Plod (Rory J. Saper), and Wolfie (Kaine Zajaz) are the heart and soul of this film. Each character individually conveys a rich level of history that collaborates into a beautiful friendship.

They posit joy, connection, and love as a friend group. Given the film’s synopsis, it makes the film all the more bittersweet. These are probably some of the realest film characters I’ve seen in recent memory, which is not an easy task. The manners these characters came to life in, whether it be attributed to the writing, acting, directorial influence, or all of the above should be noted and used as example in creating characters for every feature film.

Hats off to the actors for pulling this movie off, and special congratulations must go to Somner and Mbomio. When on screen together, these two actors are tightly bonded, with a history and care for one another that is undeniable. There is no moment between these two that doesn’t feel real, with many moments perfectly capturing the characters' anguish yet immense love for one another. Their connection creates a beautifully bittersweet friendship.

Somner’s character Sid carries the main weight of the film. Being the main character who deals with the terminal diagnosis of testicular cancer is no easy feat, and Somner displays the range of emotions that comes with a terminal diagnosis flawlessly. He bounces from grief, desperation, joy, anger, and acceptance. You feel the impact he has on the characters around him, and you understand just how much it’ll hurt for them to live without him. Somner is a talented actor, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for him. 

Mbomio brings to life the best friend Digs and creates a palpable feeling of both love and agony. Struggling to balance allowing his friend to spend his last days the way he wants, Mbomio also desperately wants to be with his friend at all times before he’s gone. His performance culminates in one of the saddest yet most brilliant performances of the film. In particular, there are a pair of scenes of Mbomio, one with Sid’s dad (Geoff Bell) and the other with Sid and Lily (Mia Mckenna-Bruce), that highlight the saddened-but-struggling balance perfectly. Mbomio’s acting broke my heart. It’s easy to see why he’s my favorite character. 

Directorial Debut

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Connor O’Hara is both the writer and director of “Kindling,” which is his first feature length film. It took eight years to bring the movie to fruition. However, that time was well worth it, as this was an incredible way to debut. It’s clear that this film and its message meant the world to O’Hara. There is so much love poured into this film. Taking a brutal topic and turning it into a blossoming work of art is beyond challenging, yet O’Hara makes it look easy. He and his team deserve all the praise for creating a film that resonates with a viewer for days.

As mentioned before, the characters are what make this film work. Credit to O’Hara’s writing is deserved; he creates a group of men that are dynamic, real, empathetic, and in turn, become some of the best examples of positive masculinity to date. In other films, men, save the main male character, can be one-noted, simply existing in a male stereotype from beginning to end. This is not the case in “Kindling.” Each friend displays a range of emotions and maturity that is refreshing.

Final Thoughts

“Kindling” shines bright with the characters that are brought to life on screen. The film does meander in some places, however in doing so I’d say it reinforces the unpredictability of life and further cements the amount of care we should hold for ourselves and one another.

If you are looking for a feel-good film that asks audiences to reflect the beauty of life and the connections we make along the way, I firmly recommend “Kindling.” The feature is released in theaters and on digital April 21st.

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