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Mean Creek

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 08/26/04 18:41:47

"An intelligent coming-of-age drama that will linger in your mind."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

To an adult, it's pretty apparent that 13 year old George Tooney (Josh Peck) has major issues. Besides being seriously overweight, suffering from a speech impediment and dyslexia, the poor kid is battling a bipolar disorder that keeps his mind in a kalaidoscopic frenzy and causes him to act out, alternately either hyped up or belligerent. Shunned by his schoolmates, who simply see him as a bully, George's only companion is a video camera, with which he is continuously recording a documentary of "stuff."

When sweet Sam (Rory Culkin), another middle-schooler, exhibits curiosity about the camera, George flies into a rage and pummels him soundly. Hearing about the beating, Sam's protective older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) recruits two of his high school friends, Marty and Clyde (Scott Mechlowicz, Ryan Kelley), to pay George back -- in Sam's words, to "hurt him without hurting him."

Unfortunately, both Marty and Clyde have major issues of their own: Marty, an angry teenager who is bullied by his own older brother, routinely takes aim at a whiskey bottle with a pistol, reciting a litany of teachers' names and chanting a resounding "Fuck you" after each name. Clyde, a quiet young man who pretty much just goes along with anything Rocky and Marty propose, is struggling with his father's homosexuality, about which he endures a lot of (not always good natured) teasing.

When the three older boys arrange a rowboat outing, during which they plan to humiliate George as payback for his bullying, Sam invites his girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder) along without letting her know about the prank. After spending time with George, the group comes to realize that he is a troubled but likeable youngster who craves friends but doesn't know how to make them. When Sam finally tells Millie about the revenge plot, she demands that he call it off, which he, Rocky, and Clyde are only too happy to do.

Once out on the water, however, an ill-conceived game of Truth or Dare explodes into adolescent rage, with tragic results.

That the boat trip ends in tragedy is not unexpected, given the circumstances and the volatility of the teenagers' emotions. What makes Mean Creek a stand out in the genre of coming-of-age dramas are the finely written (by first-time director Jacob Aaron Estes) characterizations of the six young people and what makes them tick, and the beautifully nuanced performances by all six young actors. Particularly outstanding are Rory Culkin as Sam, a gentle boy who is sick and tired of being beaten up but who doesn't really have it in him to be mean to another child; and Carly Schroeder as Millie, a young girl with real values, who stands up for what she knows is right, even when it goes against the group's survival instincts. Scott Mechlowicz is also effective, and thoroughly believable, as Marty, an angry teenager who lacks the moral acuity of his peers due to a disastrously dysfunctional home life, and who finds himself hurdling down a self-imposed road to ruin that agonizes him at the same time he sees no other way out for himself.

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