Review: Acid Test | Austin Film Festival 2021

Score:  B-

Director:  Jennifer Waldo

Cast:  Juliana Destefano, Brian Thornton, Mia Ruiz, Reece Everett Ryan

Running Time:  104 Minutes

Rated:  NR

"Are you straight edge by choice?"

Set at the height of the 1992 election in Houston, Texas, Jennifer Waldo's Acid Test takes a rebellious path towards adolescent freedom, navigating the inner workings of a young woman's mind as she deviates from the plan in an attempt to discover her voice.

With life-long plans to attend Harvard, her father's alma mater, Jenny has worked hard to get where she currently sits, across the table from an admissions delegate for the university. Her father has pushed for this moment; their connection is the center block to much of her success. She has her future planned out, and the picture is beginning to come into focus.

But that night, on a casual evening out with Drea, her ride-or-die best friend, she discovers Riot Grrrl, an aggressive underground feminist punk rock movement. She immediately drops acid, opening her mind to the possibilities that lie outside of the proverbial "plan" and the parts of her she hasn't yet explored.

Juliana Destefano gives a beautifully human performance as Jenny, a high school senior, days from turning eighteen, who yearns for Harvard but also isn't quite so sure. Her portrayal is authentic and grounded as she attempts to understand better her Latina mother, her heritage, and her father's control over the family.

Often impulsive and at times extreme, her actions infuriate her father. But Waldo beautifully tiptoes the line, ensuring that the character doesn't spin too far out of control. She keeps the film centered on Jenny's self-discovery, never giving into the workings of a rescue mission. As a result, Acid Test is able to focus on Jenny's journey as she embraces her new felt freedoms that come with her birthday, being able to vote, and picking where she'll cement her future.

Brian Thornton and Mia Ruiz beautifully encapsulate Jenny's parents, attempting to understand their daughter's recent behavior as she works through the growing pains of adolescence. Though they take their own paths, bridging from their own relationships with their daughter, their actions provide us with a better understanding of Jenny's past, opening the door to her current affairs.

That said, Reece Everett Ryan's turn as Owen, a high school friend whom Jenny confides, is far and away the best performance in the film. His dynastic personality excels within the confines of the story as he works beautifully with Destefano, serving as the support system she longs for at home. Their eventual romantic interactions seem inevitable early on, and the two play within those boundaries wonderfully, never resorting to standard youth fair as they explore their sexualities with little emotional risk.

This, in turn, personifies a primary theme throughout Waldo's debut. Though simple in context and execution, Acid Test never resorts to stereotypes. While I was occasionally annoyed with Jenny's dramatic outbursts, and her dialogue is, at times, juvenile, the film never succumbed to the pressure. There are no tropes, no earmarks for future discussion. It wears its indie budget like a badge of honor. While it isn't revolutionary, it paints in broad strokes, giving notice to the talent behind the lens, a talent worthy of attention.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.