NICE GROW­ING

With hope and hu­mor, nurse heads to Chicago to save a kid ag­ing four years ev­ery hour

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

If you met Tom and he told you the years were fly­ing by like hours, or he has to live each day like it’s his last one on Earth, he wouldn’t be merely en­gag­ing in in­spi­ra­tional-poster hy­per­bole. You see, Tom was born with an ex­tremely rare con­di­tion that causes him to age four years, ev­ery hour on the hour. Imag­ine soar­ing from in­fancy to old age over the course of one day, even as you’re just learn­ing about the world!

Tom is liv­ing Fer­ris Bueller’s One Day Off. He’s not Ben­jamin But­ton, he’s Ben­jamin One-andDone.

This is the fas­ci­nat­ing premise of the lovely and bril­liant and poignant “Tom of Your Life,” a strong fea­ture de­but by writer-di­rec­tor Jer Sk­lar, who also stars as Tom from ages 28-104, and com­posed and per­formed the mu­sic with his band (the Black­strap Mo­lasses) for this in­die gem, and I wouldn’t be sur­prised to learn he showed up ev­ery morn­ing with cof­fee and donuts for the cast and crew.

I loved this movie and how it hits the ground run­ning with its premise and trusts us to just go with it and not ask too many questions. I loved how it made great use of lo­ca­tion shots in Door County, Wis­con­sin; the Full Moon Fam­ily Restau­rant in Lake Bluff., Illi­nois, and a cou­ple of very dif­fer­ent types of shrines: Saint Vin­cent DePaul Catholic Church and the In­ner Town Pub in Ukrainian Vil­lage. Mostly, though, I loved the skill­ful sto­ry­telling and the uni­ver­sally ex­cel­lent per­for­mances from a cast of mostly un­knowns who are play­ing authen­tic char­ac­ters deal­ing with ab­surd, tragi­comic cir­cum­stances.

Baize Buzan hits ev­ery act­ing note she reaches for in a mem­o­rably grounded per­for­mance as Jess, a nurse with, shall we say, a col­or­ful past who kid­naps/res­cues Tom shortly af­ter his birth at a Wis­con­sin hospi­tal, be­cause she doesn’t want him to spend his only day of ex­is­tence be­ing prod­ded and poked and an­a­lyzed like a lab spec­i­men. (There’s a con­ve­nient if con­vo­luted lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion that ba­si­cally takes Tom’s par­ents out of the equa­tion, which helps ease our con­cerns Jess is more vil­lain than sav­ior.) She tucks Tom into the back seat of her clunker car and starts head­ing to Chicago, where she has a half-baked plan about where to take him.

When we meet Tom, he’s 8 years old (and played by Ju­dah Ab­ner Paul), and filled with cu­rios­ity about the world.

“What are you eat­ing?” he asks a man in a diner.

“Meat loaf,” comes the re­ply. “What does it taste like?” Pause. “A loaf of meat.”

Tom knows some things and doesn’t know other things. That’s just the way it is. He knows what a farm is, but he doesn’t know what a bug is. As he pro­gresses through ado­les­cence and his teenage years, he hears rock ’n’ roll for the first time, ex­pe­ri­ences a sex­ual awak­en­ing and takes the wheel of the car. (Di­rec­tor Sk­lar frames the road­trip tran­si­tions like post­cards, with the bright col­ors of fall fo­liage re­flect­ing the rapidly chang­ing sea­sons in Tom’s com­pressed life.) Jess is barely able to keep it to­gether as she jug­gles watch­ing over and teach­ing Tom about life, tak­ing steps to avoid the law (af­ter all, she has com­mit­ted a felony), try­ing to make con­tact with an ex at the Univer­sity of Chicago who might be able to do some­thing about Tom’s con­di­tion — and try­ing to stay sober, a real chal­lenge for her.

Buzan’s work is even more im­pres­sive when you con­sider she’s in­ter­act­ing with one char­ac­ter, but four dif­fer­ent ac­tors play that char­ac­ter at var­i­ous ages. Sk­lar does a fine job por­tray­ing Tom as a young man, Tom in mid­dle age, Tom at 100 years old. (The makeup is first-rate and wor­thy of a big­bud­get Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion.)

We know Tom is go­ing to go through cer­tain rites of pas­sage and get into some dicey sit­u­a­tions; the first time he sees a per­son of color, it’s on an L train, and he’s lucky his ob­ser­va­tion doesn’t get him bounced up and down the car. We’re not sur­prised the film touches on themes of faith and hope and love and de­spair. (There’s a lovely mo­ment when the 94-yearold Chicago stage leg­end Mike Nuss­baum makes a cameo as a priest who of­fers to help Tom.) Yet each stop on this unique jour­ney is han­dled with hu­mor and warmth and grace.

This is one of my fa­vorite movies of 2020.

ABOVE: Rapidly ag­ing Tom (Ju­dah Ab­ner Paul) is 8 years old when nurse Jess (Baize Buzan) takes him to a diner in “Tom of Your Life.”

FAR LEFT: Tom (Do­minic Rescigno) at age 16.

CHRISTO­PHER REJANO PHO­TOS

LEFT: Tom (Jer Sk­lar) at age 44.

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