The Junk Food of Writing

Monday, June 22, 2009

An obvious title for a subtle film

Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes, 2004)

Back in 2004, Mean Creek was released to highly favorable reviews and paltry box-office (roughly $600k). In 2005 and beyond, Mean Creek was apparently forgotten. Its relative obscurity seems like an unfortunately logical trajectory for this small sensitive film; it's an intimate look at a topic that is often tackled by absurd, over-the-top TV-movies and after-school specials. Just like the subdued, intelligent small-fry in glasses who has trouble finding a seat at lunch, Mean Creek remains respected and complex yet unpopular.

In the face of verbal and physical abuse, Sam Merric (Rory Culkin) doesn't feel particularly comfortable. The core of Mean Creek focuses on Sam's disillusionment--how he gradually becomes jaded to a violent and unfair world of youth where biceps momentarily trump brains; Estes and Culkin delicately probe the difficultly of being a sensitive child in an indifferent universe (whether that represents only high school or a more expansive worldview is the question). On the surface, this affecting morality tale looks like just another teenage revenge story, but it has deeper levels than the usually shallow vindictive tale. The whole cast, blemishes and all, turn in impressively nuanced performances; they create a collective ensemble that displays a mature understanding of human dynamics. Mean Creek slightly wonders aimlessly and isn't completely devoid of tropes of teenage anomie, but it never loses focus of its piercing adolescent angst and treatise on the superfluity of (particularly unprovoked) violence. As the weight of the consequence becomes a heavy burden, Estes balances the gravitas with truthful ambiguity.

You can view Mean Creek online, at