My Best Worst Adventure is a simple, sweet coming-of-age movie about a fish-out-of-water summer. Jenny (Lily Bhusadhit-a-nan) is a Los Angeles teen who loves basketball but has lost her desire to speak after the death of her mother. Her stepfather, overwhelmed in many ways, arranges for her to spend her summer with her maternal grandmother in Thailand. Jenny has zero interest in leaving home, comparing it to being “abducted by aliens.” But over the summer, she befriends a local boy named Boonrod (Tuchapong Rugtawatr). The adventure they share changes both of their lives.
It’s a pretty simple story, told earnestly. Director Joel Soisson doesn’t exploit Thai culture in an outsider context, instead focusing appropriately on his lead characters. Jenny’s vow of silence is matched by the fact that Boonrod is mute. A young-adult romance where neither character speaks is an interesting concept, and it succeeds because the two actors are both excellent in their roles, conveying deep wells of emotion and sadness without the crutch of spoken dialogue. The two feel trapped in a world where adults have plenty to say but nothing a kid says matters, anyway. Silence bonds them.
Jenny and Boonrod have to contend with the local rich kid bully, Archit (Chinnapat Kitichaivaranggoon). Boonrod’s family also is impoverished, his father is harassed by debt collectors. In a crazy attempt to help, the two kids decide to enter the annual Chonburi Buffalo Races, which pits Boonrod against many other, more well-trained riders … including Archit. The race sequences are tightly edited and choreographed, and the inevitable feel-good conclusion is still presented in a surprising way.
Although living in Thailand is difficult, Jenny eventually connects with her relatives, their community and the nature all around her. She brings them aspects of herself and her American upbringing, and they share with her parts of her heritage of which she was unaware. Her grandmother tells her stories about her mother.
The film is shot gorgeously and on location in Thailand. Soisson worked hard to capture authentic culture. Although she compares it to alien abduction, Jenny’s cultural dissonance comes as character-based. There’s no sense of this being a wide-eyed travelogue. It’s all very natural.
The only quibble is that Soisson uses an overbearing score for the film, which majorly detracts from many of the quieter moments. When dialogue is involved, it’s hard to hear. Additionally, the subtitles don’t cover all of the Taiwanese dialogue. Although this feels like an artistic decision, it’s also a little jarring at times.
These are quibbles, though. Inspirational stories about headstrong kids who grow and change together over a summer are common, and this is a pretty good one with some interesting creative decisions that keep it fresh. For an indie production, Adventure is a well-cast, well-told bit of inspirational filmmaking.