The Parts You Lose
2019, NR, 93 min. Directed by Christopher Cantwell. Starring Danny Murphy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scoot McNairy, Aaron Paul.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Oct. 4, 2019
Some films have a logline. Some films are a logline. If you visit the IMDb page for The Parts You Lose, you will learn that the film is about a young boy in a small North Dakota town who befriends a potentially dangerous fugitive. That’s not an inciting event or a condensed version of a more complex story; that’s as far as the filmmakers got. Once the young boy crosses paths with a fugitive, the movie provides the narrative equivalent of a 60-minute shrug.
Inasmuch as there’s more to say about The Parts You Lose, here it is: Wesley (Murphy) does not have a comfortable life. His mother (Winstead) loves him but struggles to stand up to his controlling father (McNairy); meanwhile, the students at school bully him constantly. When Wesley stumbles across a half-dead fugitive (Paul) in a local snowbank, he slowly nurses him back to health and learns to stand up for himself in the process.
There are ideas present throughout the story that might’ve made for a more engaging film. Murphy, whose first language is British Sign Language, is undoubtedly a talented young actor. There are moments in the movie – when Danny is in the classroom with other deaf students or at the dinner table with his parents – that we see what it is like to navigate a world without sound, and the film is strongest when it allows us to experience the world from Danny’s shoes. Not every movie with a deaf performer needs to be about the deaf experience, but there is so much here that is unfamiliar to non-disabled audience members that could have brought us further into Danny’s clear sense of isolation.
The biggest problem is how little effort has gone into threading this narrative together. At one point, Wesley comes home to find a U.S. marshal speaking to his mother. When Wesley pretends to know nothing about the fugitive, the marshal smiles kindly and launches into the kind of parable only expressed by cops in backcountry thrillers. You see, the marshal recalls, a woman who lived down the street from his childhood home used to feed stray cats, and one day, she started feeding a baby mountain lion. When the lion grew up, it attacked the woman, killing her and the rest of her family. Satisfied that Wesley has gotten the point, the marshal excuses himself, never once bothering to explain why he thought a deaf boy on the outskirts of town was harboring a fugitive in the first place.
As if these kinds of narrative lapses weren’t enough, The Parts You Lose has the wrong cast. The film’s trio of headline performers – Winstead, McNairy, and Paul – are unquestionably talented, but the characters they are asked to play have no connection to their respective skill sets. When Hollywood decides you’re old enough to play a mom, your characters are instantly vaulted into middle age; even if we accept Winstead as the mother of a 10-year-old, it’s a shame to see her backed into such a one-note performance. Similarly, McNairy is known for bringing intricate character work to even the smallest supporting roles. Can he play an alcoholic abuser? Sure, but McNairy is far more believable as a victim than a monster. Aaron Paul is, of course, Aaron Paul.
The Parts You Lose captures the wintry isolation of North Dakota well, and the actors involved ensure that it’s never unwatchable. Yet this is the worst kind of bad movie: a film with absolutely nothing to say.