Mean Creek

In a marketplace flooded with stupid teen comedies, a movie like Mean Creek immediately stands out.  This is a stark, realistic portrayal of teenagers who are not worrying about the prom or the big game, but dealing with genuine moral dilemmas.  The teens in Mean Creek are not shallow and vapid, but complex, thinking individuals earnestly trying to figure out what is right and wrong.  More impressive is the fact that this is the first feature length film from writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes (Summoning).  If he can coax such stark portrayals and emotions from his cast in his first film, imagine what happens once he hones his abilities?

Mean Creek has its roots in problems that many kids face - bullies.  Sam (Rory Culkin, It Runs in the Family, Signs) is terrorized at school by George (Josh Peck, Spun, Max Keeble's Big Move), a fat older kid held back because of various learning disabilities.  Upon learning of his brother's predicament, Rocky (Trevor Morgan, The Rookie, The Glass House) enlists his friend Marty (Scott Mechlowicz, Eurotrip, Neverland) to come up with a revenge plan to "smoke that ham."  They come up with an elaborate revenge plot where they invite George boating with them.  George believes it is Sam's birthday, and despite the tension between the two, Sam looks up to him.  Then, once they are far out on the river, they still strip George naked, throw him in the water, and force him to go home without any clothes.

Along for the ride are Clyde (Stray Dogs, Stolen Summer), and Millie (Carly Schroder, The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Toy Story 2), Sam's friend/girlfriend.  When she hears about their plan, she instantly dislikes it, and makes Sam promise to back off.  Once on the river, it becomes clear that while George is a jerk, he is a pretty lonely guy.  He does everything he can to attract attention, and feeds off it when other people take notice.  He is annoying, but Sam and Rocky begin to feel sorry for him.  They want to call off the plan, but Marty insists on following through.  An accident a short while later causes some serious soul-searching, as the entire group is forced to examine their beliefs on what is right and what is wrong.

At these points Mean Creek shines.  Each character has a distinct personality, and it's not always the type A people like Marty who come out ahead.  Here is a group of young people without any parental supervision, forced to deal with some extremely adult situations.  They bicker and argue, yet slowly try to figure out what the best course of action is.  They are essentially forced to grow up in a matter of hours.  Estes doesn't give them any easy way out, and the characters are clearly uncomfortable dealing with these mature elements.  They are out of their league and they realize it.  Aside from Culkin, most of the actors are relative unknowns.  Estes is able to garner some extremely good performances out of them.  They give plausible performances and look, sound, and act like teenagers in the midst of a crisis, not actors playing roles. 

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 27 minutes, Rated R for language, sexual references, teen drug use and alcohol use.

Back to Movies