My Favorite Movies – Mean Creek (2004)

27 Apr

By Tanner Smith

I don’t have a lot of depressing movies in my “Favorite Movies” collection, but…wow, has “Mean Creek” done a number on me.

I remember first seeing this film on TV when I was 13. The best way to describe its effect on me back then would be: it mentally scarred me. And then the second viewing convinced me this was going to be that certain arthouse film I decide to show my friends. I showed it to my best buddy and it messed him up too. Then he kept telling everyone in school about it…though only about two or three more kids in school actually checked it out. Not that we were intending to create a “cult following” out of this film but admittedly it felt good knowing about something that wasn’t getting a lot of attention (from Manila High anyway) that we felt we had to share with people.

“Mean Creek” is a film about teenagers who have had misfortunes in their lives that make them outcasts that are now suddenly faced with a moral dilemma within the biggest crisis in their lives. And it all begins as a revenge prank on a school bully. It’s as if it’s saying what could start out as a merry joke on someone else’s expense could end up being the very thing you regret the most in life.

Josh Peck is nothing short of brilliant as George, the bully in question. This is probably the most disturbing teenage-bully character I’ve ever seen in a film, but he’s also the most three-dimensional as well. Sometimes he can be seen as lonely and pathetic in the ways he tries to fit in and find friends, but other times he can be very mean and obnoxious. And it’s his loud mouth that becomes his fatal flaw in a scene in which he becomes so angry that he shouts hurtful putdowns to each of the other characters one by one. It’s just such a great performance with a lot of levels to it.

And I can also say the same for Scott Mechlowicz as Marty, who is bruised by his father’s suicide, abused by his older brother at home, and has a lot of anger built up inside that he is eagerly awaiting to take out on George. He’s the one who doesn’t want to back out of the plan to humiliate George and even tells him the truth about what he and the other teens were going to do to him, because he wants to hurt him. And then when the inevitable climax occurs and he tries to keep everyone in control in what he believes is the best thing for everyone, even he can’t help but feel miserable about what he’s done.

That’s another reason “Mean Creek” works so well: it’s an “anti-revenge” story. Many films centered on characters seeking vengeance never allow time for the characters to truly think about what they’ve done after they either humiliate or destroy the person who’s wrong them. This film does. The last half-hour or so of “Mean Creek” is arguably the best element in the film because it shows the kids dealing with what they’ve done and the effects this revenge has had on all of them. They talk about it, they think about it, they consider the consequences, they realize the guilt from keeping quiet, and so on.

I think the reason this film got to me when I first saw this film at age 13 was not entirely because I felt so bad for the bully (though I did) but because I was wondering myself what I would do in that situation, and how I would feel. Would I go with my peers? Would I tell anyone what I’ve done? How could I go through life knowing everyone I know would suddenly look at me in a different way and never forgive me for this? And what if I didn’t have much to do with it but I wasn’t able to stop it either? Or what if I could’ve stopped it but I didn’t?

There’s another film that came out recently that tackles with the same type of subject matter, called Super Dark Times. I like that film a lot too–I think the reason I hold “Mean Creek” in a higher regard was superficially because of the effect it had on me when I first saw it.

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