Saturday, May 28, 2011

Movie Review: That's What I Am - PG

Limited theater release, also available on DVD and Netflix.

Human Dignity + Compassion = Peace 

 That is the theme of this story, and one lesson that Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) shares with his class.  The story takes place around 1965.  12 year-old Andy Nichol is disappointed when he is paired on a school project with Stanley Minor, known as 'Big G' because he is the resident school 'geek'.  Stanley has bright red hair, big ears, and handles being the target of school bullies with dignity, and his head held high.  In addition to learning from Stanley, Andy also has a crush on Mary, who he pursues.

Andy really matures in this story,and he is able to help Stanley as well.  But he can't help when another  character is unjustly accused of something.

I found the family interactions in 1965  especially interesting.  Randy Orton from the WWE has a role as one of the student's father.   This story was much more emotionally gripping than I expected.

A very family-oriented movie that you'll want to watch with your kids.


Mike said...

After reading your review of this film, I watched it on Netflix. I was so disappointed I have to express just how deeply I disagree with your review.

I wanted to like it. When the movie began it seemed to have the potential of A Christmas Story. However it quickly fell far flat. As a story it has a few endearing moments, but tries too hard to proselytize.

The details of the story itself are ridiculous. Some examples:

- A male teacher has to go into the girls bathroom stall and hug a crying girl. Where were the female teachers, or school nurse?

- An 8th grade teacher spend his class time reading books to the pupils. Really?

- Parents are completely absent except to supply a single plot element that cant rationally be promoted by the children. You could say that's because it focuses around children, but even things like the talent show had a room full of parents, but not any of the parents of the kids in the story.

- The teachers seem to tolerate an excessive amount of bullying. The only child who is admonished (and even then the punishment is pretty mild) beats a girl with a zipper until her arms are masses of cuts.

- The one child with a real story is used merely as a prop in the rush to sexualize children.

- The evil people use as their excuse the bible says so, while the good people are the hypersexualized kids (one girl makes out with every boy in school who will give her an acceptably expensive piece of jewelry).

All this amid a backdrop of constant bullying. Much of the tension arises between the protagonists desire for sex versus his desire to not get beaten up. In the course of this he becomes friends with one of the school pariahs, an aspect is never properly explored because the emphasis is on sex and violence.

And, of course, the elephant in the room that's left out of most reviews is the alleged homosexuality of the teacher. While we never find out if he is a homosexual (although he implies that he isn't), the message of that's what I am is that homosexuality is like a vocation, and can't (and shouldn't) be denied. And of course, it should be tolerated by others.

There were so many good ways this story could have gone. In the end it went nowhere. I also think it should have at least a PG-13 rating for its thematic material and excessive bullying.

Sadly, because of your review I watched the first part of this movie with my children (11 and 13). They were so disgusted by it they asked me to turn it off. I watched the rest without them to see if the rest of the movie was as bad. It was.

Anonymous said...

Mike, a lot of what you pointed out about the movie would be ridiculous today, but in the time frame this movie was set in (1960'S), was far from the standards of today. You would have had to lived in that time period in order to understand the placement of the action, language used, and mannerism of society and culture.