Probably the best thing about Around the Fire is Devon Sawa's performance. He plays a college bound teen who meets a group of new friends who quickly turn him on to drugs and a counter culture that is intriguing but ultimately leads to his downfall, as he uses it to escape the tragic loss of his mother and the family problems that surround it.
Although the story is heartfelt and unfolds well, it is also derivative and highly uneven. The director is careful not to use any real names of people or places in portraying the hippie/druggie sub-culture that the Sawa character falls prey to. This has a twin effect of leaving things a little vague, yet, bringing us into a real and hypnotically dazzling world.
However, the performances shine, elevating the film to a much more credible level. Sawa has grown into an actor of considerable depth and range and proves that he's at home as much here as he is in any number of his earlier, more emotionally shallow films.
Around the Fire is the deeply resonant story of a boy named Simon, who despite being raised in an upper-class Manhattan household with all its privileges--and restrictions--is haunted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of his mother. In Simon's eyes, his high-powered businessman father Matt wasted no time in remarrying his stepmother Lauren, a woman with a perfect facade whom he suspects of having an affair with Matt long before his mother's demise. When Simon is sent away to boarding school in preparation to attend Princeton, he meets Andrew, who introduces him to marijuana and LSD, and immerses him into a whole new world populated by dreamers, artists, utopians, flower children and partiers who spend the better part of their lives "on tour" at musical festivals. Simon is deeply moved by the beauty and freedom of these people, and feels they are the family he has always sought. At his very first concert Simon meets Jennifer, a beautiful young hippie to whom he is immediately attracted, Trace, a hipster on the road less traveled who immediately bonds with him, and Kevin, a champion of the "seize the day" ethic who is dying of AIDS. As Simon delves deeper into this new-found free-spirited lifestyle, he must face an inevitable conflict not only with the life his father has planned for him, but also with the self-destructive emotional turmoil deep within. Struggling to come to terms with these conflicts, Simon makes a series of bad decisions which land him in a strict drug rehab program run by a street-smart, yet caring woman named Kate. It is here that Simon is made to take a look at himself in an honest light and to learn that until he finds out what is right for him, his chances for happiness will be fleeting at best.—B Dahlia
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