Film Review – Mean Creek

Smoke That Ham!

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, May 2005)

Teen films are not an edifying movie experience. So when one comes along that actually dares to be remotely near any bloody good, it’s like Jesus is playing the new Doctor Who.

In Mean Creek, young Rory Culkin is getting the snot kicked out of him by a fat tub of underachieving lard at school. Rory Culkin looks exactly like his older brother Macaulay used to look, before pubescence and Michael Jackson got to him. As a result, one can’t help feel a little sympathy as a boy who strongly resembles John Prescott is treating him like an egg-throwing yokel. The big lad in question is pointedly called George; pointedly so that all those who remember Of Mice and Men may think that things aren’t all that they seem.

But for the moment, we can revel in young Rory telling his tale of woe to his older brother (who isn’t played by Macaulay) and said brother planning the sort of revenge that makes all bully victims wish they had older brothers who gave even something vaguely resembling a damn about them. I wonder if Macaulay gives a monkeys about his young film star brother? It’s doubtful he’s told him, “don’t be an actor – all it leads to is people telling the courts that this big pop star fiddled with you.”

So anyway, the older brother who isn’t called Macaulay talks to a few friends and together they hatch a plot to take George on a rowing holiday and mete out something suitably humiliating, probably involving nudity and a lot of water, as is the way with kids. You’d think George would have to be pretty stupid to fall for a set up like that; unfortunately George is exactly that stupid. Rather uniquely for an American film, someone doing something utterly stupid only increases the building unease, rather than make you want to shoot the lazy writer.

But outdoing everything in supplying unease is Marty, the leader of this potential lynch mob, who is treating the whole thing with the sadistic relish of, well, the leader of a potential lynch mob. “I say we smoke that ham!” Marty is that annoyingly cool kid at school, the one who drinks before you do, who smokes pot before you do, who gives you peer pressure like it’s a communicable disease and who looks like James Dean and will last about as long on this planet. As they all pile into the car to drive to a creek that could be pretty mean, George worriedly explains that his mom told him not to get into a car driven by a drunk driver. “Oh, it’s cool,” replies Marty, sinking another gin and putting the car in gear, “My mom gave me permission to drink and drive. You don’t have to worry about it.”

The rest of the passengers aren’t as stupid as George (who naturally thinks cherry blossom is blossom that grows on cherries) and they’re picking up our sense of unease. By the time they get into the boat, it’s fairly clear that not only has George got pretty severe learning difficulties, but that his main reason for lashing out so much is that, well, he’s got pretty severe learning difficulties. He also repeats himself too. Led by Rory’s friend Millie, the kids slowly come round to the idea of not giving George his dues. Marty is not amused, especially when he could be watching television instead: “I’m out here on this river with a bunch of munchkins who are sober as hell and bringing me down, and now you tell me that we don’t even get to do what we came here for?”

“Everyone else wants to call it off,” explains not-Macaulay. “Everyone else is a vagina!” snaps Marty, displaying the sort of wit which leads us to think he may not be the brightest either. But no matter, because George is just as self-destructive, even if he doesn’t drink and drive. He remembers that Marty’s father committed suicide. Worse, George unwisely explains this act as, “he put a gun in his mouth and spattered his brains all over the wall.” Even worse, George makes a nursery rhyme out of this charming phrase.

By now, everyone else is uncertain which side to take in this Tale of Two Fuck-Ups. Even Marty’s best friend suffers from his boss’s withering tongue, thanks to his father being gay (“You’re not a fag. I mean, I like your dads”). So when the whole journey goes inevitably, and in one person’s case, terminally tits up, naturally nobody’s going to stand shoulder to shoulder.

The ending may be slightly predictable, but that doesn’t take away from this dark and thoroughly engrossing drama, that dares to suggest that when teens take a wrong turn, there’s not always silly psychos wearing Scooby Doo masks waiting for them. Mean Creek is seriously disturbed and seriously recommended.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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