Many times in fiction we often see adolescents dealing with the brunt of everyday life beyond high school and puberty. Sometimes they lose a close family member, often by unnatural means. Other times their responsibilities in life increase greatly. But what differs from these depictions is how the teens handle their new situations.
With Lean on Pete, it follows Charley Thompson after his supposedly comfortable home life slips through his fingers. He decides to find his aunt but there's one problem: he's in Oregon, she lives in Wyoming (at least that's where he remember where she lives), and he has no means of getting there. With the titular ailing racehorse as his companion, he ventures out to find a place he can call home.
Willy Vlautin's novel is simplistic in its writing (it's told from Charley's point of view) but its storytelling speaks volumes in the narrative. In a style reminiscent of John Steinbeck's work, the matter-of-fact perspective from Charley shows innocence becoming aware of the hardscrabble nature of everyday life. (No one ever said life itself would be forgiving.)
Andrew Haigh's adaptation condenses Vlautin's novel to a certain degree but otherwise stays true to the source material. As his earlier films Weekend and 45 Years showed, he prefers depicting the small things that happen in one's day and Lean on Pete is no exception. And like his previous entries, Haigh shows how the little things can lead to something big.
So which is better: Vlautin's book or Haigh's movie? Both capture the modesty of everyday life, how one's usual routine can be a change of pace for another. And they also depict something else, something most fiction rarely chronicles and often eschews: the world we're a part of is both fascinating and frightening.
What's worth checking out?: Both.