Monday, September 06, 2004

It's funny. When we're little, those we look up to usually greet our distresses with a warm, casual smile. Maybe a hug. We're just children, ya know? Wait till we get older, then we'll know what real trouble is. But the older I get, the more I come to realize that things aren't so different in those younger days than they are now. They're just much more obvious and less cluttered.

When a kid has a breakdown it's called a tantrum or hyperactivity. When an adult does, it's called depression or "borderline personality disorder." There's a dozen different names and explanations for good old fashioned human insecurity and ten times more negative manifestations of it. This has something to do with why I really do value the so called coming of age/teen drama/comedies, including those that made John Hughes rich in the 80s and more recent entries, such as Elephant (babbled poetical about here), and most of Francoise Truffaut's oeuvre, which is often either about adults acting like children or vice versa.

Of all these movies that speak to the so-called human condition through the hearts and minds of young people, a new one arrives with a sense of focus and clarity I've never really seen before. Mean Creek, written and directed by a first-timer, Jacob Estes, starring a bunch of kids I barely recognize (save for the young Culkin of course), is one of the most brutally honest, funny, sad and ultimately moving films I've seen in a few years. The same sense of hyper-socialism that casually informed Welcome to the Dollhouse or Dazed and Confused, and intensely saturated the very similar, and as good, George Washington, is much more than just a coming of age story, or an afterschool trauma drama. Like Lord of the Flies, or my favorite Heart of Darkness, it's an unflinching journey into the soul from all sides, centered around the planning and implimentation of a typical teen prank that goes wrong, and...then what? That's the question that's always left in these stories.

The strength of this movie comes in the murmured, unsure answer. The naivity of its younger characters, the cocksure, but really no less enlightened, posing of the older ones, are performed by actors that draw the kind of life-like characterizations that you instantly want to get to know better or get as far away from as possible, or both. Each character breaths with his/her own convictions and sense of responsiblity, some more cracked than others. Do we really ever get any wiser than we were at 12? The answer to that question is what burns deeply here. The climax is a moment of quiet, measured bravery that reaches beyond age and class and left yours truly all sorts of wet-eyed. I could say more, but why ruin it? The future is a blank canvass. Take your brush in hand.

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