One of my favorite fiction writing exercises is putting two unlikely characters together in a room and just watching what happens. The results will vary as widely as the characters, but the fruits of this labor are almost always unexpected and fresh.
It’s possible writer Darren Lemke did something similar when he sat down to create THE PARTS YOU LOSE, and if he did, the exercise was well worth it.
In many ways, Wesley (Danny Murphy) is your typical ten-year-old boy. He plays checkers, chomps on fruit snacks, and loves his mother. But one thing sets Wesley apart; he’s deaf. Not totally deaf, but his disability is impactful enough to need sign language to communicate. This makes him an outcast among some of his peers, and he suffers for it daily at the hands of a group of bullies.
It’s an isolating existence, made all the worse by a father (the always excellent Scoot McNairy) who refuses to learn ASL. “The boy’s not deaf,” Ronnie reasons, “maybe we shouldn’t always be treating him like he is.”
But Wes’ world is changed when he happens across a wounded man (Aaron Paul) lying in the snow on his way home from school. His first instinct is to tell his dad, but when Ronnie can’t understand him, Wes takes matters into his own hands, pulling the unconscious man into their unused barn.
Wes feeds the man and gathers supplies to dress his wounds, and the two strike up a wary relationship. Although his new secret friend won’t reveal how he came to nearly freeze to death in the snow, he’s more than happy to share wisdom on other topics, including how to win at checkers and the best way to fight bullies.
As the man regains his strength, Wes’ feelings of admiration grow. It seems that the two were meant to find and learn from one another.
Then the police show up.
It turns out there was a robbery in town, and one of the suspects got away. Could the stranger in the barn be the one they’re looking for?
THE PARTS YOU LOSE is a movie all about character, and the ones Lemke has created are deep, with rich pasts and full inner lives. There was never a moment that felt unmotivated or false, and it was a joy to watch scenes play out to their surprising conclusions.
A great example of this comes when Wes reveals to the stranger that he’s being picked on in school. It’s a paternal scene, but the lessons have a decidedly Darwinian touch. His advice for confronting the bully? “Stay calm. Stand your ground. Look him straight in the eye. And break his goddamn head open.”
This is also a beautiful film. Director Christopher Cantwell and cinematographer Evans Brown serve up breathtaking winter landscapes and cozy fire-lit living rooms with the aesthetic precision of a master painter. It’s a film where the cold is a constant supporting character, living in the shadows of the drafty gray barn, pressing on the iced-over windows, and kissing rosy cheeks in the snow.
The final ingredient that can make or break a film is the cast, and casting directors Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas hit it out of the park in that regard. Aaron Paul, Scoot McNairy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Danny Murphy all play their parts to perfection, if you’ll forgive the cliche.
THE PARTS YOU LOSE is a delicate, thoughtful mystery just right for the long winter nights to come. THE PARTS YOU LOSE is now in theaters and VOD.