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March 31, 2023 / levelFILM

Starring: Willow Shields, Lochlyn Munro, Elizabeth Mitchell, Jonathan Simao

Directed By: Connie Cocchia

Departing for college, Abbie leaves her parents and brother who has autism and is non-verbal. As she explores her independence and sexuality, she's torn between her new life and her love for her brother.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

When Time Got Louder is a stirring coming-of-age drama that strikes you to your core with its emotional tale of love, family and responsibility, though it is the always excellent Elizabeth Mitchell who steals the film with a heartbreaking performance as the family’s matriarch.

Leaving home after graduating high school is a hard time for anyone, as parents hope that their children make good choices and excel, while young adults begin to make their own path in life without their family for the first time in their life. It’s good material for any coming-of-age drama, but what separates this film from others with a similar story is the fact that this film revolves around a family where one of the children autistic, non-verbal child. It’s an extra layer of stress on individuals in an already emotional time, but writer director Connie Cocchia does a wonderful job of capturing the relatable characters, their struggles and allowing the audience to feel every moment of joy and heartbreak over the course of the film.

Abbie has finished high school, gotten accepted into her dream program in Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from home and her family, ready to start her life. While exploring her first romantic relationship and her own sexuality, Abbie struggles knowing that she has left behind her younger brother Kayden. Kayden is autistic and non-verbal, and Abbie’s departure from his life as he was used to it his entire life presents their family with new challenges, some that they knew were coming and others that they never imagined having to face so early on in life.

Cocchia starts the film near the end of the chronological events of the story, with Kayden’s parents and Abbie being interviewed by a social worker and Kayden unconscious in the hospital. Instantly she wraps you in suspense, as your mind goes to extremes thinking of what could have happened to Kayden, before she takes you back through the events this family has faced in the previous months so you understand how they got to this point in life. You feel every burst of joy and happiness as this family bands together to support each other, while also experiencing their struggles. Combined with the knowledge of what is coming at the end of the film, it creates emotional stakes that captivates your attention throughout the film. Yes, the film did lose me at times when it was focusing on Abbie and her relationship at university, not because it was a poorly written relationship, but because it lacked the stakes that the family drama element of the story had. But overall, I found myself invested in these characters and anxiously watching, hoping that everything would work out in the end for them.

The screenplay does a great job of handling Kayden’s autism with care and sincerity. Some films have a poor grasp of how to portray such individuals on screen, and even go as far as having able actors portray autism in poor taste, which never ends well. But Cocchia approaches the character of Kayden with a grace, creating a character that is more than just his autism. Helping to bring this character to life is Jonathan Simao’s performance. Simao himself is on the spectrum, which lends credibility to his performance and never for a second does it feel like a bad impersonation, but a careful approach to Kayden’s condition.

Willow Shields and Lochlyn Munro both give good performances as Abbie and Mark respectively. Shields captures the internal struggle within Abbie as she begins to truly discover herself while being torn apart from the guilt of leaving behind her brother and family, knowing the adjustments they are having to make without her present. On the other hand, Munro finds the challenge as he tries to help prepare his son for the real world, while coming to terms with the fact that it is a much larger task than he ever imagined. But it is Elizabeth Mitchell who steals the entire film as Tish. I have been a fan of Mitchell for years between Lost and Once Upon a Time, and she is firing on all cylinders in this film. The love that she brings to this mother who will do anything for her son jumps off the screen, which only sets you up to be devastated by the situation she and her husband find herself in. During these emotionally devastating moments, Mitchell brings a true vulnerability to her performance that ensures you as the audience are feeling every emotion that her character is currently experiencing.

Strong performances bring together this small Canadian film, capturing the heart, joy and pain of writer/director Connie Cocchia’s screenplay at every turn.  The story is engaging and moving, guaranteed to tug on the heart strings, but it is the ever talented Elizabeth Mitchell that makes When Time Got Louder worth your time.

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