Mean Creek (2004)
Who hasn't wanted to get back at that mean old bully in school? You know the guy: he picks on kids smaller than him just because he's a big jerk and he can. Who doesn't want to teach that kid a lesson? So what if you had the chance to do so and you found out he wasn't such a bad guy?
In Mean Creek, the bully's name is George (Josh Peck), and the smaller kid he picks on is Sam (Rory Culkin). After a run-in with George, who has been held back a grade several times, making him bigger than the others in his class, Sam, his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan), and Rocky's friends Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) and Clyde (Ryan Kelley) come up with a plan: they will invite George to a birthday party for Sam, take him out on a boat on the river, start a game of Truth or Dare, then strip him naked and dump him into the river, and George will have to run home naked. They reason that this is the best way to get back at him, because it doesn't hurt him physically, which would be as bad as what he does to other kids.
Also along for the ride is Sam's girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder), who wasn't told in advance and doesn't like the plan. George accepts the invitation, but when the group starts to talk to him, they find out that he's not such a bad guy--it seems he just wants some friends--and Sam wants to call off the plan. Everyone agrees except Marty, who's got some personal demons of his own; he's sort of the ringleader for drinking and smoking and things of the same ilk. Things don't go as planned, and each of the characters is faced with a difficult moral dilemma that will affect the rest of their lives.
At heart, these are all good kids. Marty has an oppressive older brother, and harbors some sort of resentment against just about everybody--even his friends--but we get the feeling it's because of the way he was brought up, not because of any conscious choice of his own. Clyde has two gay fathers, and is not comfortable when other people insinuate that he too is gay. Rocky wants to be a good role model and protector for his kid brother. Millie is a kind-hearted girl and just wants Sam to like her and have a normal relationship with him. Sam, played especially effectively by the youngest of the Culkin clan, Rory, just wants to be a normal kid and not have to spend his days worrying about whether he will get beat up. And George is the big mystery; we first meet him as a bully, pounding on Sam, but then we see him in his room with his video camera, and he seems lonely. He seems genuinely happy to be hanging out with the rest of this group, but he's got a terrible temper and lashes out without warning.
Mean Creek very realistically portrays teenagers doing what they do: fighting amongst themselves and starting more trouble as a group than they ever would as individuals. We get to know each of these six characters very well, and understand why they act the way they do, and the performances here are all flawless. Most of the films about teenagers tend to look down on them and make them all look stupid, but Mean Creek treats them with respect and tries to show why sometimes they act a little strange: because they're confused, and yeah, maybe a little mean.
April 3, 2005