Mean Creek a pleasant discovery

Mean Creek: A simple title for a simple movie. It says what it means: it is about kids being mean in a creek. Too simple? Nothing in life is simple. Macaulay Culkin?s little brother, Rory Culkin, stars as the good little rascal in this independent coming-of-age film. Mean Creek is well-directed, with good effects, beautiful scenic shots, well-placed camera angles, all-star acting, and a hot soundtrack. This movie is a snapshot of a time when a group of teens? lives are changed forever.

This is a small budget film acting like a big money blockbuster. Directed by rookie Jacob Aaron Estes, who also won the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting for writing the screenplay, the movie screams teen angst on the surface. However, it?s anything but. Don?t expect your typical love?s labor?s lost, parental mistakes, or school pressures drama. Instead it?s a hard look at complicated life choices. Moral dilemmas are not a piece of cake for a 12 year old, or for someone at any age.

The movie is about a group of children living in a small town, deep in the woods of Oregon. Like most coming-of-age movies, there is an eclectic mix of characteristics for each group member to give different perspectives on the situation and a deeper multi-layered plot. The group consists of Sam (Rory Culkin), his protective older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan), Rocky?s friends Clyde (Ryan Kelley) and Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), and Sam?s new girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder). These teens plan to teach the middle school bully George, played by Joshua Peck, a lesson he?ll never forget. The prank goes horribly wrong, and the pranksters have to decide what to do after the traumatic incident. The director?s unique portrayal of a bully is ground-breaking, as Mean Creek displays the bully as an intricate human being, instead of a one-sided, mean fat kid whom everyone hates. In real life, nothing is clean cut and simple, which this movie does a good job of capturing.

Not a single minute of this film is wasted on drawn-out still shots or voice-overs. The director utilizes different ways to portray the characters? inner voices including a hand-held camera, knife carvings, and silent action. The director avoids cliches, such as the predictable creation of a blood pact or dreaming up elaborate and unrealistic coincidences.

The true test for this movie is that the audience is aware of what is going to happen in the end. Even though the plot is known in advance, the film definitely captures the viewer?s attention down to the last minute. The camera pans in and out and focuses on different faces and pairs of people, drawing the audience?s attention to the unspoken connections, emotions, and dynamics that the audience wouldn?t see without the help of the angle.

The director did a fine job creating an unusual dynamic between Sam and Millie. Their first experience in a date setting is a frightening one. This juxtaposes the joy that lovers usually experience during the first date. Instead of being an innocent and virginal experience, they end up being involved in something horrible, and forge a bond that is stronger than any dinner-and-a-movie experience can ever create.

The director, following a trend in independent films, uses some religious symbolism to add dimension to the progressing story. After the traumatic incident, Clyde takes off his black shirt, revealing a tank top underneath ? bright white and pristine, as well as a cross necklace. At the end of the movie, he is ?sacrificed? by the group and has to leave town.

Mean Creek is not just a coming-of-age film, but also a current-age film. The director works hard to portray the insecurities, issues, and reactions of today?s teens. Clyde deals with growing up with two gay fathers and the teasing that goes along with that. Marty is a hostile high-school student who deals with a lot of anger and who imagines shooting his teachers and older brother. The bully, George, is a teen dealing with a learning disability, in an age where learning disability labels are doled out as commonly as nicknames. He deals with his insecurities of being overweight and learning-disabled by lashing out in anger at random intervals, and both verbally and physically abusing anyone around him. Mean Creek is truly a look into the current tumultuous times.

Go to the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill to catch this Sundance Film Festival film. It?s definitely worth the $7.