Had Jim Jarmusch been hired to direct Home Alone, the result might have looked a little like Duck Season, a minimalist coming-of-age comedy that delights in the giddy indulgences of two kids left alone for a day, but leaves a bitter aftertaste. In the end, it isn't about foiling robbers, restoring the perfect suburban family unit, or saving Christmas, but about dealing with the awkward hiccups of adolescence and parental dysfunction. Needless to say, the film has a maturity that's absent from John Hughes' more commercially calculated work, but it's also funnier, too, collecting offbeat bits of comic observation punctuated, much like Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, by cuts to black. The scenes have the quality of miniature vignettes, and they add up to a modest, beautifully proportioned peek into the lives of four uncertain young characters who aren't yet fully formed.
Set over the course of a long Sunday afternoon, Duck Season opens with a single mother leaving her 14-year-old son Daniel Miranda and his runty best friend Diego Cataño in their tenement apartment while she attends a party. Given ice-cold Cokes and some pizza money, the boys are eager to spend a day of caffeinated bliss playing video games, munching on greasy slices and heaping bowls of potato chips, and generally acting their age. But a series of events conspire to put a damper on the afternoon: Their electricity goes out, short-circuiting their epic "Bush vs. bin Laden" Halo showdown, their pretty 16-year-old neighbor (Danny Perea) comes over to make an ill-prepared cake, and the boys enter a stalemate with the pizza guy (Enrique Arreola) after he arrives 11 seconds late. The foursome wind up hanging out together, and eventually, darker revelations come to light about Miranda's broken home.
Mexican writer-director Fernando Eimbcke got his start in short films and documentaries, and his first feature reveals a gift for concision: It doesn't overexert itself trying to come to big conclusions about these characters, and even the comedic scenes settle for gentle quirks over broad guffaws. Shot in simple, elegant black and white, Duck Season may be most impressive for its agreeable slightness, the way it stretches across a lazy afternoon like a deep, satisfying yawn. The day represents a turning point for Miranda and Cataño—otherwise, it wouldn't be a coming-of-age film—but it isn't the end of the world, just a bump in the road.