STANDING UP, Or "When Is A Children's Film No Longer A Children's Film?"
Aug 28, 2013
As an online critic, I’ve had the good fortune of reviewing some very good family films. Some of them clearly embraced ideas and characters that I suspect the young ones would have a great time experiencing their adventures vicariously. Others have been much more educational in nature, hopefully instilling in audiences the kinds of traits and behaviors important for anyone to fulfill a role in a growing society. Still, with a very small handful of these films and DVDs that have been provided to me I’ve had to question what value a young mind would take in being exposed to some of the scenes and subject matter; thankfully, that’s only been a few, but I’d be inclined to add STANDING UP to that list.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of sentiments worth getting excited about in this flick where two young protagonists – a girl and a boy – stand up against the system that’s kinda/sorta oppressing them. It’s “the rest of the story” that bugs me, and I’ll try to be as specific as possible without spoiling too much of it if you’re inclined to read below.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Howie (played with wondrous maturity by Chandler Canterbury) finds himself the victim of a cruel prank at summer camp: on an evening’s canoe trip, the other boys from his cabin strip him stark naked and leave him on an island to fend for himself against the elements. However, to Howie’s surprise, he soon discovers that he’s not alone: in fact, the girls of the same summer camp have done the same to Grace (Annalise Basso). In no time, these two (naked) children find one another – along with some much needed clothing – and team up to run away from it all. Despite the obvious adversity of their situation – both feel abandoned by uncaring parents at camp – they vow to one another that they’ll do what they must to survive until Grace can have them ‘rescued’ by her mother (the always lovely Radha Mitchell).
STANDING UP is based on a children’s novel – “The Goats” – written by Brock Cole, and, dare I say, I don’t know what Mr. Cole’s experiences with summer camp were like. If the film is any indication, then I’d have to say that he’s had none; in my lifetime, I’ve had the good fortune of serving at three different ones – my wife worked at one, as well – and I’ve never seen any run the way he and the screenwriter/director D.J. Caruso would have you believe. Now, that may seem a relatively minor quibble to some of you who, perhaps, have had no camp experience; let me assure you that, as camping plays such a pivotal role in crafting this entire story, it IS a big deal. Of course, shenanigans of this sort may take place somewhere on this big blue marble we collectively occupy; it’s far from ‘the norm’ as is repeatedly presented here.
The buck doesn’t stop there in the healthy bastardization of our world. All of the adults portrayed in the film (with a single exception, but I won’t trouble you with that fact) are, largely, idiots. They make one bad decision after another. Grace’s mother receives a telephone call from her daughter when no camp would seemingly let a child call home at any given moment, much less call mom at her work. The camp director is surprisingly unconcerned about what has happened to Howie and Grace, nor is he all that concerned that two children have run away together. And Val Kilmer shows up for a downright bizarre cameo as a (get this!) seemingly hung-over sheriff’s deputy who casually offers children a cigarette as well as refers to 10-year-old Grace as ‘jailbait.’ Sadly, this is the standard Hollywoodization of things most Americans hold sacred – show how childlike the adults are while elevating the children to perceived ‘sainthood.’
So while I openly hated the hackneyed characterizations of any authority figure in the film, I truly enjoyed most of the children.
What works entirely are the young actors: the young Mr. Canterbury and Ms. Basso are a delight, and it is on their small shoulders that so much of this capably rests. (There are a handful of other youngsters in here that do a nice job with their small investments as well, but kudos to director Caruso in finding two talented Thespians to shoulder the burden of the film.) They run the gamut of emotions here – distress, confusion, happiness, etc. – at all times with their eyes open, turning in two of the most impressive performances I can remember seeing out of children in quite some time. My major beef here remains centered around some of the material, and that in no way should diminish the futures of these welcome surprises.
STANDING UP (2012) is produced by AR Films, Aldamisa Entertainment, and Seven Star Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled through Arc Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds mostly wonderful, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the opening sequence – when Howie and Grace meet in the island’s cabin – is poorly miked; it’s increasingly difficult to hear the young girl, some of which is due to her emotional state of what’s transpired. The disc boasts a ‘making of’ short and the theatrical trailer for those interested in checking them out; I wasn’t. And did I mention this thing was Dove-approved? How that happened I have no idea, so there you go. Also, it played as an Official Selection of the St. Louis International Children’s Film Festival.
RECOMMENDED. I hate feeling as though I’ve been unnecessarily harsh on what’s clearly been billed as “family entertainment,” but I have to be true to myself. That being said, there are elements of STANDING UP that are just not appropriate for younger viewers – the opening de-pantsing sequence is far too harsh; the mischaracterization of anyone who’s ever worked in the professional summer camp business; and don’t even get me started (again) on the inappropriateness of the Val Kilmer character – and I’d be hesitant to give it a full family-friendly endorsement. As I’ve often said, I’m no parent, but I’d have to think twice about whether or not I’d show this to anyone under the age of ten: sadly, that seems to have been the target audience
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arc Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of STANDING UP by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.