Fraternities never appealed to me. I love friends as much as the next fella, but it all felt a little cult-like to me. Throw in the idea of hazing and how toxic some of them felt, to say the least, and I was happy to not be invited to their parties. So, I see something like The Line as preaching to the choir. Now, this movie has the right take on the subject, it just doesn’t attack with any sort of a new angle. This flick may be new and debuting at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, but it’s something we’ve seen before.
The Line is a flawed look at a subject well worth exploring. I just wish there was more here than just what you’d expect. By the end, almost everything that you’d expect to happen has happened, without much else. A strong central performance and a feel that this is taken from similar events in real life prevents this from being anything mediocre, but it’s a bit frustrating to watch a film come up just a touch short.
Tom Backster (Alex Wolff) is a brother in very good standing at a fictional university fraternity. He’s the only one able to deal with his obnoxious frat brother and roommate, Mitch Miller (Bo Mitchell), for one. Plus, he’s even been eyed by fraternity President Todd Stevens (Lewis Pullman) as a potential successor. For someone of far less status than most of his brothers, this is a way to a better life. Mitch may have money and power from his parents, but succeeding her will set Tom up forever. Two things are about to stand in his way, however, putting him in the center of a power struggle.
One is that his brothers, Mitch especially, don’t like his budding relationship with Annabelle Bascom (Halle Bailey), who doesn’t look like the girls most of them bed. The other issue is that Todd has taken a shine to Gettys O’Brien (Austin Abrams), a new pledge that Mitch despises. Gettys hates him right back, leading to Tom being caught in the middle of something very combustible.
Alex Wolff’s performance is nearly enough to recommend this movie on its own. The difference in how he acts and talks around his mother, as opposed to the frat, it’s really engaging. He’s always a compelling actor to watch, so this is really no surprise, just a pleasure. No one else in the cast matches him, though Halle Bailey is a more complex character than you’d expect. Bo Mitchell is the spoiled jerk you know fraternities are rife with, while Austin Abrams plays a solid counterpoint to the sophomoric brothers he seeks to join. Supporting players, aside from Lewis Pullman, include John Malkovich, Scoot McNairy, Cheri Oteri, Denise Richards, and more.
Filmmaker Ethan Berger has a lot of pieces in place here, but it doesn’t fully come together. Berger’s direction is mostly strong, aside from some pacing issues. It’s the screenplay, which he penned with Zack Purdo and Alex Russek, that needed a bit more development. The ending in particular feels forced, obvious, and doesn’t say anything we didn’t already know. Had the third act gone in a different direction, this movie might have actually saved itself, as opposed to falling a bit short.
The Line is just shy of where you want it to be. This is as frustrating a Tribeca film as I’ve seen this year, since it’s so close to being something I can recommend. I suspect I’ll be in the minority here, but it would be false to not just say my truth. This movie isn’t bad, but it honestly should have been a bit better. Alas.