Coming in with no expectations when watching Children of the River, it’s both touching and baffling, powerful and disappointing. Consider me confusingly surprised!
A lot of this boils down to the film’s incoherent structure. For one, it’s a coming of age story with not-so-subtle references to Call Me By Your Name (cough, Elias vs. Elio, cough). It’s also a tragic tale of soldiers who abandoned their families to fight the war in Marawi – and the grief and worry that entails. These two sides could work individually, but they don’t mesh well together here and appear underdeveloped. The whole queer saga feels instead like an overlong diversion and thus deprives it of the spotlight it deserves. We haven’t even mentioned the insistence on excesses like the whole singing session and the witch doctor appointments.
But arguably, COTR’s biggest problem is its artificial and preachy dialogue. These kids are like vessels possessed by adult SJW spirits! There are whole monologues on fat shaming, bullying, and coming out, all expressed in words that don’t come naturally to whoever is talking. You have kids being kids then later on spewing one rhetorical statement after another, disorienting you out of the whole experience.
Much credit should be given to the four leads for giving the film its center, especially Noel Comia Jr. His delicate portrayal of Elias is charming, endearing, mushy, and cute – and almost makes us forget the film’s faults.
There’s no denying that COTR tackles not one but two important, relevant discourses. But how they’re presented and expressed is another banana (pun intended).