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3 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Mysterious Skin
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Gregg Araki finally makes a watchable film"
4 stars

I sat down to watch “Mysterious Skin,” the latest film from indie director Gregg Araki with what I will cheerfully admit to being a less-than-optimistic frame of mind. Although he gained credibility with some critics early on for his gay-themed melodramas “The Living End” and “Totally F***ed Up,” I found both to be as crude, annoying and abrasive as a particularly inarticulate 13-year-old thug crashing from a glue high. From there, he went on to slightly more mainstream efforts–in the sense that they featured some vaguely well-known performers searching indie cred from their peeps and they were usually in focus–such as “The Doom Generation” and “Nowhere” that were actually worse–both were deeply cynical and contrived films where the governing idea seemed to “If all else fails, blow someone’s head off!” (The former is so bad that it feature Rose McGowan naked almost throughout and it still remains virtually unwatchable.) From there, he went on “Splendor,” a witless subversion of the romantic comedy genre that alienated fans and detractors alike so greatly that he seemed to virtually drop off the radar altogether.

That attitude lasted for the first few minutes of the film until I began to realize that the film seemed to be the work of an entirely different filmmaker. I don’t know what happened–perhaps Araki spent the last six years taking filmmaking lessons ot slowly realizing that shock visuals and campy cameos alone do not a movie make–but the result is that “Mysterious Skin” is not only Araki’s best work to date by far (not exactly saying a hell of a lot) but a genuinely impressive and thoughtful film in its own right that still demonstrates Araki’s flair for weirdness while keeping it within the framework of a compelling storyline.

Based on the novel by Scott Heim, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick, a young hustler living in a tiny Kansas town with a loving-but-inattentive mother (Elisabeth Shue) and a loyal-but-wary best friend, Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg). As a child, Neil was molested by his Little League coach (Bill Sage)–an act that Neil has construed as an act of genuine love–and it has fueled his life as a teen prostitute ever since. The heedless Neil takes off for New York with Wendy to continue hustling with a reckless regard for his health. At the same time, back in Kansas, another young man, Brian (Brady Corbet), is plagued with nightmares, cannot account for five hours of his life when he was eight and is convinced that he was abducted by aliens during those missing hours. While investigating what happened to him, he discovers a link between himself and Neil and tries to track him down to get to the bottom of the secret that has long haunted both of their lives.

With its combination of gay themes, possible aliens and big stars in small roles, “Mysterious Skin” may look like a typical Araki film on its surface. However, Araki is going for something deeper here than he did in his previous work. While the mystery of what happened to Brady is anything but mysterious, Araki is less interested in what happened to him and Neil than in how both have processed what happened in very different ways. Both of the approaches are fascinating and Araki is helped immensely by the sterling performances by Corbet and especiall Gordon-LEvitt, whose Neil is a charismatic car wreck whose spell you can’t help but fall under. Araki also finds an effective manner of translating potentially exploitative and troubling material in a way that remains true to his characters–the way he depicts Neil’s molestation is both horrifying (as it should be) and strangely beautiful (which is how Neil has come to see it in his mind) at the same time without ever becoming simply unwatchable. Throughout, in fact, Araki laces his scenes of pain and angst with a strangely beautiful visual aesthetic that adds an extra layer to the material. (One scene, in which Neil and Wendy stand in a deserted drive-in and contemplate their lives, is perhaps the most haunting scene Araki has ever filmed.)

While it may not be good enough to inspire a reviewing of his previous works, “Mysterious Skin” is proof that Gregg Araki has matured to the point where he can make a watchable film. For hardcore fans of his early work, this may not be the greatest thing–for them, it may seem like the betrayal that John Waters allegedly pulled when he left the cult netherworld to make more accessible films like “Cry-Baby” and “Serial Mom.” For the rest of us, “Mysterious Skin” will prove to be a powerful and intriguing experience that signals Araki as a director who is finally demonstrating that there is some talent behind his hype and flash after all.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10568&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/02/05 23:46:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/20/11 Jennifer uch! 1 stars
4/24/08 beau Beautiful ending! Great performances all round, especially brady corbet & wendy-niels mate 5 stars
9/30/07 Todd Wow, I've got major movie hangover from this one--disturbing but outstanding 5 stars
8/08/06 Elizabeth S Beautiful and poignant, despite the subject matter. 5 stars
4/27/06 jeanne If you don't understand how pedophiles can molest kids for years, watch this. Horrifying. 5 stars
4/13/06 Indrid Cold Very well made and acted, but I just didn't find it that enjoyable. 3 stars
11/13/05 Danny Well made and acted film. Some scenes a bit too vile for my taste, though. 3 stars
11/06/05 Jim The Movie Freak A damn near perfect movie. Araki finally shows signs of maturity and empathy 5 stars
10/30/05 tatum Araki finally grows up and makes a haunting film; brilliant 5 stars
8/10/05 Pete Hawke Best film so far all year. Joseph Gordon-livett was absolutely riveting. Araki's masterpiec 5 stars
6/06/05 tim monroe beautiful, painful, intense 5 stars
5/25/05 sulky Everything Rick said. Araki, Levitt, Corbet - I worship you 5 stars
2/26/05 Rick Numbed me, amazingly gorgeous, disturbing, darkly funny, one of 2005's best. 5 stars
9/06/04 chrisbland incredible 5 stars
9/01/04 Melanie Corbet BRADY IS HOT!!! 5 stars
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  06-May-2005 (NR)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2005



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