From unrequited love to acne to peer pressure, adolescence isn’t always particularly easy-going. Geneviève Dulude-De Celles’ new documentary, Welcome to F.L., follows a group of Québécois high schoolers tasked with photographing each other to decorate the dull, grey exterior of their school. The film alternates between talking head interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage of the teenagers in their day-to-day lives, as they deal with realities of bullying, popularity, and social class imbalance. The film therefore alternates between being insightful and relatable to oftentimes tedious and redundant.
The students in Welcome to F.L. discuss what many consider to be the generic tropes of feeling invisible, wanting to fit in, and searching for identity and purpose in life. One student points out the parallels between movies and real life, since cliques in her school really do exist—there are the smokers, the jocks, the rich kids, and the not-so rich kids. The takeaway from this film is that despite the conflicting social groups, they all want to belong. This might seem like a contrived and generic conclusion to reach, but childish ramblings can reveal a truth that goes deeper than the speaker’s intentions.
“Many filmmakers portray teenagers as immoral and ignorant, with pursuits that are pretty base,” coming-of-age filmmaker John Hughes said in a 1985 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “They seem to think that teenagers aren’t very bright. But I haven't found that to be the case. I listen to kids. I respect them. Some of them are as bright as any of the adults I've met.”
Although the documentary includes many scenes that speak more directly to the human condition, the best parts were the quietest ones, where nothing is said at all. In one instance there was a boy climbing a building to find the perfect view of the sunset, in another scene he strums his guitar. Listening to such a silence means grasping the complexity that is adolescence, when one’s hopes and dreams are so much greater than one’s confidence. These quiet moments can often be the most teachable. Welcome to F.L. understands these complexities we’ve all faced at some point, as the students reveal their visions of the world with surprising introspection, humour, and candor.
The documentary also cleverly illustrates the hidden beauty that can be found within life’s everyday banalities, from laughing with a group of friends to walking home from school while smoking a cigarette. But it also treads a very fine line between beauty and tedium. A large chunk of the documentary seems to act as mere filler rather than offering an insightful commentary on the journey of growing up. The audience doesn’t really need to watch minute after minute of someone applying makeup for their prom or running around doing Parkour stunts. These filler sequences come across as substitutes for the film’s lack of more meaty and profound material.
Ultimately, however, Welcome to F.L. redeems its shortcomings with a refreshingly candid portrayal of today’s youth, as the students face relatable trials and tribulations before entering the next stage of their lives. While teen angst may seem overdone and cliché, the audience can’t help but feel a nostalgic connection to the students and the universal dilemmas they share. After all, growing up is not always easy to do.