Sailboat is a small boy from a Latino family who lives in a sparse yet tranquil corner of the U.S. desert with his meatball-producing mother and tough, quirky father. As he wanders around the weird and wonderful junkyard surrounding his home, he comes across a ukulele. Fascinated by this newfound instrument and inspired by the words of his sick grandmother, he begins to write a song which has an immense power over the people surrounding him.
If Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers had a baby, it would look something like this. Cameron Nugent’s gorgeous turquoise and sand colour palette feels like sinking into a soft armchair. Colours seem to come from the sky before flowing on to cars, school chalkboards and even JK Simmons’ suit.
In the current world climate, A Boy Called Sailboat seems timely. Sailboat is poor, but not just poor. As a Latino child living in the US, he is Other. Against a real-life backdrop of parent/ child separations on the Southern border, Nugent’s world may seem overly idealised. There are no ICE agents in the film. No racist undertones, just kindly white neighbours. No hefty medical bills for Sailboat’s sick grandmother. But we are left feeling that none of this matters. Nugent, as both writer and director, is showing us the world a little closer to what it should be, a la Amelie. It’s a world that’s more beautiful. More trusting. Kinder. And he manages this with zero schmaltz.
For a child actor to pull off this length of film is impressive. Newcomer Julian Atocani Sanchez’s performance as Sailboat is authentic and heart-warming. It seems a shame that JK Simmons, as Ernest was underused but he enjoys every second he’s on screen and so do we. The way the actual ukulele music itself was done left something to be desired. Every-time Sailboat starts his song, a tone is played that sounds like a phone of the hook. I understand this was probably a creative decision due to ukulele inexperience but the effect has you panicking that your ears might have just failed.
Themes of dreams, shyness and potential are all very accessible and make the story both suitable and accommodating for children. A scene in which Sailboats mother serves a tray of her trademark meatballs was particularly poignant, and there is some amazing comedy in the performances of the supporting cast and especially from the stick which holds up Sailboat’s house which almost becomes a character of its own.
This is a very intricate and impressive piece of work that feels like a folk tale you might hear whilst traveling the Midwest. The film is warm and honest. It has depth but never takes itself too seriously. I personally can’t wait to see what Nugent does next, and would love to see this style of direction and atmosphere applied to a different genre in the future.
To be released for digital download from 6th of May.