We’ll never be as young as we used to. I mean, obviously, right? But one of the painful things about getting older is that experiencing something new happens less and less frequently. The younger you are, the more newness the world holds. And, even more tragically, most of us forget what that feels like as we age. Marco La Via and Hanna Ladoul haven’t forgotten, though, and their openhearted, bittersweet new movie, We the Coyotes, is proof.
Amanda (Morgan Saylor) and Jake (McCaul Lombardi) have quit their jobs in rural Illinois and moved to Los Angeles with what little money they have, a job interview scheduled and an aunt in Reseda. The city, as it does to most newcomers who don’t already have wealth or connections, kicks them down to the ground but also shows them all of the beauty it hides in plain sight, right alongside the strip malls and trash-clogged gutters.
It would be almost impossible to make one true “Los Angeles movie.” The city is too sprawling and too schizophrenic to fit. So movies about this city tend to focus on pockets. We the Coyotes is more ambitious than most, though, squeezing in the West Valley, Hollywood, downtown and even Venice, among others, the parts of town where cool, white kids like Amanda and Jake would be likely to trawl. For evidence that La Via and Ladoul understand and respect the city, though, look no further than the fact that they show people actually taking the bus and the subway, and doing so alongside many other passengers. Our subway stations are not the empty cathedrals of Michael Mann’s Collateral. They are filled with the people who live and work in Los Angeles every day, invisible to the rich folks who claim that “nobody walks” in L.A.
Amanda and Jake go through some rough times in the short period covered in We the Coyotes. But, smartly, La Via and Ladoul don’t let us forget that everything is relative. Some might dismiss the couple as “white trash” but even people such as they have white privilege. At their lowest point, they ride the bus past Skid Row and its sidewalks of endless tents. The news on the radio mentions the threat of nuclear war. Things could be worse for them.
While it’s good and commendable that the movie and the characters are cognizant of their relative good fortune, We the Coyotes also recognizes that their troubles are still very real, both in the sense that they are fairly dire and, especially, in the sense that they are relatable. At the risk of turning this review into a personal essay, I repeatedly found myself gobsmacked by scenarios that I had experienced myself. From the very beginning, when Amanda’s aunt (Betsey Brandt) makes the unmarried couple sleep in separate rooms and, later, when they sneak out to the backyard in the middle of the night to smoke cigarettes, I was in their shoes. The rest of the movie goes on to cram into a couple days most of my entire first year and a half in Los Angeles. From dead end leads on jobs to getting your car towed to going a great house party thrown by someone you don’t know to the first time you see the city from the hills at night; these were the hallmarks of finding my place in this city. We the Coyotes did what movies are good at; it made me feel like I was a part of something bigger.