Review: ‘Frybread Face And Me’

Taika Waititi-Produced Coming Of Age Story Is A Quiet Reflection On Indigenous Life

Note: This review was part of our 2023 Middleburg Film Festival Coverage

In the semi-biographical coming-of-age film, Frybread Face and Me, a young man encounters the different generations of women in his family. Obsessed with pop culture, specifically Fleetwood Mac, middle-school-aged Benny is sent to live with his grandmother on the Navajo reservation while his parents sort out their troubled marriage in San Diego. Heartfelt, grounded, and beautifully shot, writer/director Billy Luther earns his storytelling chops in his first narrative feature. 

When Benny (Keir Tallman) arrives at the reservation, he and his grandmother (Sarah H Natani) have no way to communicate as he speaks in English and she speaks Diné. His Uncle Marvin (Martin Sensmeier) also lives on the family property taking care of the livestock and bull riding in his spare time. Benny already feels isolated by his parents and his uncle’s traditional masculine ways prove to distance himself from his family.

That is until his aunt drops off Dawn, whom the aunties and uncles unaffectionately call Frybread Face as her complexion is “flat and greasy”. Played by newcomer Charley Hogan, Dawn becomes the forceful go-between for Benny and his grandmother, teaching him the ways of their family and people. Hogan gives a tender and confident performance that makes you question just how old this actress actually is. Tallman’s sweet and contemplative turn as Benny is magnified by his chemistry with Hogan, making the onscreen duo one of the best teams of the year.

Luther is probably best known for his 2006 documentary Miss Navajo which looked at the life of an Indigenous beauty pageant contestant as she competed for the titular title. His most recent work includes writing for the AMC+ detective drama Dark Winds where he also directed a 2023 episode. In Frybread Face and Me, Luther has full control over the story and manages to create a quietly moving narrative that highlights the vital role women take in indigenous communities. He uses his documentary background throughout the film, but it is highlighted in the scenes where Benny’s grandmother is weaving. 

The director smartly picks and chooses when and where to subtitle the Navajo language, depending on where Benny is in his journey. The more he connects to it, the more we know as an audience. Luther struggles to keep the pace of the narrative and parts of the dialogue feel unpolished, but Frybread Face and Me’s message of community and maternal love outshines its flaws.

Frybread Face and Me opens in select theaters and will stream on Netflix starting 11/24.

'Frybread Face and Me'
Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-frybread-face-and-meA young boy is left at his grandmother and is faced with the rough edges of his family in this coming of age story.