In Netflix’s ‘Frybread Face and Me,’ 11-year-old Benny experiences a summer to remember at his grandma’s house on the Navajo reservation. The film invokes strong feelings of nostalgia, which is increased tenfold by the narration. The narrator’s presence shows the audience that the protagonist is looking back at the time, something that is gone and lost. It is remembered fondly and with a pinch in the heart because it’s just a memory playing back. The identity of the narrator adds more gravity to these emotions. SPOILERS AHEAD
An Older Benny Narrates the Nostalgia of the Summer
The narrator in the film is the older Benny, of an unspecified age, remembering the first summer he spent at his grandma’s place with the clarity that can only accompany something that leaves an indelible mark on a person. The voice-over is given by Billy Luther, the writer and director of the film. He revealed that the idea of having a voice-over wasn’t in the original script. However, he wanted to “dive deeper into the older Benny looking back and his thoughts about life, without telling the audience too much,” and decided to add the narration.
At first, it was decided to use another actor for the voice-over. However, their dialogue delivery didn’t hit the emotion that Luther was going for. “It was about emphasizing certain words that I was saying in a particular way when I was talking about my grandmother,” he added, revealing how he eventually settled on the idea of doing the voice-over himself. This, along with the grainy home videos that bookend the film, gives the story a documentary feel, making it appear all the more real to the audience.
While ‘Frybread Face and Me’ is a fictional story, it is, for the most part, inspired by Luther’s own childhood memories. Doing the voice-over took him back to that time in his childhood, when he spent his summers at his grandma’s place, and remembering all that brought out a lot of emotions that show themselves in his narration. “My own grandmother passed away a week before we started filming, so I really needed that emotion in the voice. When you make a film, it’s all about the process of editing, and we edited for a year. Some things weren’t hitting, but when we put my VO in there, that really hit,” the director said, revealing how the narration made him add a new layer to the story.
The use of narration frames Benny’s summer like an old photo, something he goes back to from time to time and looks back at fondly. Every part of it is revisited, even the initial bitterness of Uncle Marvin, with a sort of heartache that can only come out of childhood memories. It also becomes a device to fill in the gaps, to say things that were otherwise left unsaid between Benny and the people he spent the summer with, while also bringing the audience closer to the protagonist, making them feel as if they continued with his story into adulthood where they now sit by his side, listening to his story.