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Mean Creek (2004) [review]

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Bullies, you love to hate them. In the media we see the stereotypical bully with his skull and bones shirt and his intimidating haircut as he is terrorizing the small and weak at school. However, how does a real bully work? What makes them tick? Independent director Jason Aaron Estes asked the same question, and would come up with a movie to answer that very question. Enter the mind of one George Tooney, a bully with no common sense or reason, and the prank that would change everyone's life forever. Welcome to Mean Creek!

This movie has been sitting under the radar for the longest time. Why is it so important now? Well, it stars lovable child actor Josh Peck in his early days right out of The Amanda Show and not quite to Drake & Josh yet. What is expected of Josh is quite mangled by his performance. He stars as goofy yet vulgar dyslexic bully George Tooney, a kid who nobody seems to understand. The movie almost serves as an outlook of George's life from how he is when he is violent and angry to when he is more calm and content. It's almost like a really clever study of a person's life, it is just that in this case, the person isn't real, but the kind of character Josh Peck plays is. In fact, so are all the other characters in this film. I can tell you right off the bat that Josh plays an incredibly convincing bully, and a likable one at that.



George carries around a video camera to record his life as he wants to make a documentary about it when he grows up. Then there's Sam (Rory Culkin, actually related to Macaulay Culkin), a small and rather weak kid who is just curious if someone had left their video camera just lying around. George, who was playing basketball, isn't very happy to see Sam picking up his video camera, so he goes over and beats the living shit out of him, warning him to never touch his camera again. After being completely destroyed and cussed out by Josh Peck, Sam admits to his older brother Rocky (Trever Morgan) that he had been beaten up by George and didn't know what to do. Well, Rocky has a few friends who aren't exactly the most good of kids, and he knows how to devise a plan to get back at George. Rocky's friends are Clyde (Ryan Kelley), a teenager who is subject to ridicule because he has two gay fathers, and Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), a traumatized young man who had to face the horrors of his dad's suicide years earlier. Together the three drink in their car and devise a plan to get back at George once and for all. They decide that they'd stage a birthday for Sam and ask George to come along with them. Sam's birthday would take the form of a boating trip in which they'd go down a creek and play a game of truth and dare in which they'd force George to strip naked and swim home on his own. They thought this would be hilarious for smacking Sam upside the head, but Sam's girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder) does not think getting revenge on George will be the right way to go. However, Sam still invites her to come with him on the trip on Saturday to celebrate his rather fake birthday. All they needed was to get George to come along now.

However, in the meantime, Marty has to deal with his teenage angst while dealing with his abusive brother (who is never named) taunting him constantly. Marty and friends go to Sam's house to see if they can get George to come, with great success. As Marty gathers his cronies to begin the first stage of his plan, we see George in his natural habitat of basketball lore and rap music. Taping his house with his video camera, he sees Marty at the driver's seat with all his new "friends". Delighted to be invited, George hops in the back seat and gives Sam a nice present. It's a super soaker, and Sam is a bit surprised about the kind gift. In fact, Sam begins to notice that George isn't such a bad guy at all. As they arrive near the creek and they travel through the woods, Sam learns that George has dyslexia and can't read very well. He also learns that George actually isn't that mean, he's actually a very caring yet misunderstood individual. George actually feels as if he has amnesia for when he hurts people, and finds himself slightly terrified of himself. Although he acts tough, George is just a fat kid who wants to be accepted. Sam starts to think twice. The chemistry between the characters here is very well done in terms of acting and script and brings out a more believable aspect. It slowly sprouts this kind of understanding between the kids and the disconnected George.


George staring at his prey

This movie uses a lot of different perspectives between the people in this movie. At the beginning of the movie a lot of it revolves around switching between Sam and Millie trying to live out their lives peacefully to the darker perspectives of Marty and his friends who are always constantly under ridicule, especially Marty whose brother has friends who are all abusive and difficult to deal with. It's interesting how the movie tries to build up the back-story of the characters to sort of get inside their heads and understand the connection between all of them. I think this was a smarter move as it helps you sympathize with some and question others. The movie also tries to put you inside the confused mind of George while living his life behind force and a video camera. It's all very well played out.

Another aspect of the movie that is admirable is the scenery. Most of this movie was shot in Oregon and southern Washington around the forest areas and the rivers, contrasting the peaceful earth with the dark and rather brooding atmosphere of a seemingly harmless yet unjustified prank. I think a lot of the camera choices and the scenery are metaphorical in a sense. It seems weird that a movie like this would have such a dark undertone with a deep message behind it, but really, the film surprisingly advances past Josh Peck cussing out other people. In fact, it makes the cussing almost understandable.


Hi, I'm Marty. I'm a complete asshole!

Everyone except Marty starts thinking twice about playing the prank on George, as he has proven that he isn't as mean as they thought. However, Marty refuses to back down, believing that he has to go through with what he started. Rocky warns him that he'll regret it if he doesn't back down. Marty, being a smug asshole, half accepts it with an ulterior motive. As they progress on the trip, George tells a few dumb jokes, but Sam and the others begin not to mind him so much. All was good up until Marty decided that he wouldn't listen to Rocky or anyone else. He calls for a game of Truth and Dare. Everybody knows that Marty wants to pull off this trick against George, and nobody wants part of it anymore. After a long grueling game of people talking about masturbating, Sam and Millie kissing for as long as you can hold your breath, and Marty "bringing on the penis" as George was taunting, George makes a mistake. He brings up Marty's dead father, forgetting that Marty was traumatized by the event. Marty becomes pissed and orders George to swim home naked like they had planned. Marty tells George the truth about the prank, and that he's done with screwing around. Marty wants him gone, but George isn't believing it, but Sam himself reveals that he wanted to get back at George for getting beat up. However, Sam apologizes and says that he changed his mind, because after seeing that George wasn't such a bad guy, he wanted to be his friend instead. George refuses to believe this and yells at Sam and Millie, using nice colorful words like "jap cunt" and "fucking liar", and even Clyde became a "faggot" who he really hated because he talked about how his dad's asshole worked. George then realizes the true enemy here: Marty. George knows that Marty's weak spot is his dad, so he begins to insult him over and over, as his father had "splattered his brains all over the wall". Marty is sick of it, and Rocky is losing it, not sure what to do other than yell at George. This begins a long and grueling chain of events that will drive some to guilt and others to insanity.

If I had to use two words to describe this movie, it would be "hilariously depressing". Without spoiling too much of the last twenty minutes of this movie (and it's only like 90 minutes), the twist is actually incredibly depressing in contrast to the mildly humorous build up with Josh Peck swearing up a storm like nobody would've expected, and this sort of tension leading up to the prank itself. Yet, despite all this, this movie is actually really good. For an unnoticed independent film starring Macaulay Culkin's brother and Josh Peck, it's actually got an incredible message and everything is very well done. Though a lot of the camera shots seem kinda shaky and dumb, the movie itself which I thought was gonna be me laughing at Josh Peck the whole movie was me feeling incredibly bad for him for most of the movie, and actually enjoying it thoroughly. It's just one of those movies you wouldn't expect to be a good movie. It revolves around a lot of adolescent issues of dealing with death, alcohol abuse, abuse in its ground state, and being someone who is hard to relate with especially. You begin to sympathize with George later in the movie, realizing he's just a confused kid with severe dyslexia and amnesia and he just wants to be accepted and understood in the eyes of his peers, and he just wants to believe it's possible. It's actually sort of touching.



The acting in this movie is really well done. For Josh Peck who had just gotten out of his child fame in The Amanda Show, he plays an incredibly convincing bully who just wants to be accepted. He has this perfect balance of acting innocent and kind with being harsh and vulgar towards people. He pretty much runs this movie. Then you have Rory Culkin who plays well as a young wimpy kid who comes to accept George's problems and begins to believe he can accept him rather than get revenge on someone who is troubled and doesn't really deserve it. Scott Mechlowicz also does an excellent job as playing the film's later antagonist Marty, someone with so much angst and hatred that it will eventually become the downfall of them all. Even then, you can slightly sympathize with Marty, but hey, you can't ignore the fact that he truly is a giant asshole. The chemistry between the characters in this movie is incredibly well done, every little thing and interaction being so vital to the story itself.

I think the most redeeming part of this movie is that it's so believable. It's just a harmless teenage prank that goes totally wrong with feelings of regret all around. Everyone has a story behind them that builds up to the innocence of this prank that actually turns out to be more disgusting and fatal than anyone would've imagined. It's a rather animalistic look at dealing with being someone who differs from the social norm, and after people begin to realize who someone truly is, there will always be someone who won't. It's actually really saddening because it carries the kind of message that really reeks of misunderstanding and acceptance. Everyone in this movie has the same problem, and yet couldn't come to accept George for being a troubled kid, and that's the great irony of it all. The antagonist is always changing as well. First it seems like George, then it turns out to be Marty's brother, and then it's Marty himself, and it just builds up to this ultimate payoff, and it's just incredible in that aspect.


Marty doing the whole stare down routine

The movie really sticks close to its concept of misunderstanding, and it doesn't sway due to petty romance or the hilarity of Josh's tangents. Every kid has a past that defines them, whether it means they have gay parents, dead parents, or dyslexia, it really shows that everyone is just looking for a reason to be understood, not just fat bullies who don't know what they're doing. With other aspects of movie, the camera is sort of shaky at times, but I like the aspect of George recording his own life, including the trip, and it adds a real personal aspect to the whole movie. The music is also well picked, done by tomandandy, and it really sets the tone of the movie with all the tension and buildup progressing. It's a good score and definitely fitting to the film.

What's the verdict on Mean Creek? It's an incredibly touching and rather vulgar movie about being someone who just doesn't fit into a teenage society, and it's incredibly well done. Where you could possibly find movies like these that are more bright and popular, this movie doesn't beat around the bush. It's dark, ugly, disgusting, and turns what seemed innocent to deadly. Misunderstanding sometimes isn't just innocent teasing and bullying, sometimes it can destroy every aspect of a person's life, and everyone's life could suffer as well. It's a rather unknown movie that stars Josh Peck swearing a lot with people getting drunk and bringing on the penis, and hey, it's really a great watch. Saddening and enjoyable, Mean Creek brings to the table what some people couldn't. It's alright to be different, some people just want to be understood.

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Crazy Luigi

I was wondering if someone was going to write something on this film.

Anyways, I as well thought that this film would be enjoyable due to Josh Peck being a bad motherfucker throughout the film from the bullying at the beginning to the calling out of everybody on the boat near the end. However, looking at more than just minute long clips does show a different story involving Mean Creek. I can also relate to the film's message of wanting to be understood. Overall, I've enjoyed this review, and I hope to find this film for myself real soon.

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Childhood sweetheart

Oh yes. I figured bematt would be the one in the writing staff to write a mean creek review.

Now the way i found out about this was, of course, 'bring on the penis', but i had no clue that something devastating would happen just five minutes after that. I soon found out the movie was mean creek, and decided to check out the trailer, mostly expecting it to be somewhat comical. Well ...

... it just made me tempted to watch it. Yes, it is sort of spoiled in the end of the trailer that

josh peck's character dies

, but i felt that there was something more to it. Sure enough, there was.

I bought the movie on itunes, since i couldn't for the life of my find the full movie anywhere on the internet. It was a very good ten dollars to spend. I adored the ending, even though it was incredibly depressing. (i guess i really like downer endings) The acting was also really enjoyable, and really good considering these are actors under eighteen years old.

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Dr. Strangebutts

It was quite intellectually stimulating indeed to learn how Clyde's fathers' assholes work.

Also damn, I can't help but be bummed out at the fact that one of Spam's videos on it got taken down. ):

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Mean Creek Machine.

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Well Bematt, you've done it again.

Also, I remember watching part of the movie a long while ago. I was flipping through channels and I saw Josh being chewed out by Marty so I stayed on it. I sure as hell didn't expect to see him flip out like that, not to mention the terrifying scene after.

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