Watching this film is a discovery; it's like stumbling on an unusual rock, putting it in your pocket, and, when you pull it out, realizing it's actually a flawless diamond. Burn Your Maps' concept is definitely quirky: A second-grader thinks he's a Mongolian goat herder. (Whaaaaat?) But that unique plot element is just the first domino in an unexpected spilling of wonder (as in, "I wonder where this film is going."). The story is pleasingly unpredictable, the dialogue is snappy, and the writing is tight. Every line gives you a pound of understanding, which you'll need, because the film drops viewers smack into the middle of this family's turmoil. And that's what's all the more miraculous: Writer-director Jordan Roberts doesn't hit you over the head with exposition; rather, it's a slow roll of information that unwinds. For instance, when her parents start bickering, Wes' teen sister emotionlessly utters a warning call, "You guys are about to start fighting" -- and the entire picture of what life has been like in that household is painted.
Nuances like that are executed by top-shelf acting from the entire cast -- you feel everything. As a mother who's trying to pull herself out of a mountain of grief, Farmiga gets the most opportunity to show her chops, but every player gives a riveting, informative, emotive performance. As a retired, trekking nun, Virginia Madsen pops in for just a couple of scenes and proves that much can be made with little. The cinematography is equally gorgeous, with "golden hour" shots illuminating Mongolia as if it were heaven itself. Will kids or teens find it as enthralling as adults will? Perhaps not. But as the last shot triumphs, grown-up viewers will sit in awe of this little gem.