Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Madadayo, Used DVD's! #14: Fred Durst's THE EDUCATION OF CHARLIE BANKS

Yep.  THE Fred Durst.  Not to be confused with Robert "What a Disaster" Durst, but the one who sang (or no, didn't sing, that's too much credit, screamed badly) about Nookies and breaking shit and covering former members of WAM.  And it turns out he is another in a long line of rotten white males who can make decent movies.  Truth be told, he did NOT do it all for the nookie, but rather somewhere along the line he discovered festival laurels...

The Education of Charlie Banks doesn't have the most remarkable characters you can find - matter of fact, they're fairly stock - but the casting is fairly key to making this story watchable from scene to scene.  The thru-line is meant to be simply this: the title character is a young guy with some upper-middle class ties (Jesse Eisenberg) is at a party and sees an acquaintance named Mick (Jason Ritter) beat the shit out of two guys on a rooftop for saying something to him in a bathroom (almost to an inch of their lives, that kind of beat-down).  At first Charlie tells the cops about what happened, but has some second thoughts after, you know, hearing that if someone is found out to have ratted Mick out then that guy's in trouble and then tells the cops he saw nothing. 

Mick gets out of jail after a few weeks, but Charlie bails to go to a new school - a kind of prep-type of college - and cut ahead to two years later and Charlie, a bookish kid (and of course Eisenberg is ideally cast) has become happy and having a good time at this school... until Mick comes around.  Is he there to get payback?  It's unclear, and that's where the bulk of the tension takes place (at least at first, till it dissipates, sort of, not really).  There's also the hints (or just outright as) a love triangle with Mary, another bookish girl (Mary Amurri), though it's mostly about these two guys and how they push and pull in what seems like a friendship with a maybe, sort of, not really allusion to The Great Gatsby (the outsider looking in to the World of the Rich sort of thing, though like if it was told through supporting characters instead of some BIG guy like Gatsby).

The movie is told with some broad strokes of characterizations: Charlie may play poker and baskettball and seems like a pretty chill, normal, usually affable guy (or as much as an actor who right now is hamming it up as Joker Lex Luthor Jr can do), but he's still a sort of "Nerd" when in the sphere of a guy from the "streets" like Mick.  But I think that Durst, working off of another writer's script, is aware of the types and is much more fascinated by how there are things underneath these types to look for.  While I'm not sure if Mary gets so much development after a certain point - she has better scenes with Charlie since the characters are on a more equal intellectual footing than the typical "she's in to tough-bad-boys' like Mick - the actress playing her is very effective if only because she isn't some known quantity: she's cast like she could be at that school at a class right now, and Durst directs her naturally.

The question comes, does Durst relate to Eisenberg, Ritter... or the girl?

I mostly liked Ritter (who looks so much like his late father it's uncanny) and wished that his character had not necessarily more depth but a slightly different trajectory than as written here.  What works so well is that there's a good coming-of-age milieu in a sort of nostalgic backdrop and it never feels like its trying too hard or being fake about its period-ness (again it's Fred Durst so it surprises me slightly to see someone I thought was mostly in would-be-rock-hip hop culture so firmly immersed in Connecticut upper-crust youth, like the ones who wear scarves when it's not cold and buy yachts on a whim, and who are the sort of stuff-shirt people at Charlie's school).  Ritter shows he has the goods here, and I'm sure I'll be looking for him in other roles where he may or may not stretch further from a very good 2 dimensional role, with the shades of 3 dimensions, if that makes sense, like a third dimension may peek its head here and there and then go back under.

If the script lets down the actors its not so much in the dialog but in the structure; where this story ends up seems pretty certain from the moment that Mick and Charlie lock eyes again in his dorm room, and all the auditing and naked jacuzzi-ing or crashed parties or other things won't change how they have to have some sort of confrontation.  It's almost like the third act can't help but go down a path that's a little too safe in a weird way, like the characters should know better but the story has them in an inexorable bind.  It may be right in a sense, like this is what Ritter's Mick knows how to live life and hasn't been raised like everyone else at that school (so, of course, empathy is there, up to a point).  But by a certain point it's hard to feel sympathy anymore, and it becomes just in the last several minutes a chore to sit through.

So it's a strange recommendation to make.  It's a good movie, on the whole, and Durst certainly knows where to put the camera and let a take go on for a while in a natural way - that is, it doesn't call attention to itself (i.e. an Inaritu Revenant take or something), but lets the actors play things out, closer to the period the film is set in actually.  I'd even say I want to see more films by him, though it doesn't seem like he's working at that career at the moment. 

I don't know if this even marks as a strong calling card, but he has a great sense for letting the actors play things out in such a way that he can elevate the material, or take it to where it *could* go, and despite all the flaws in the material and in certain cliches, it's not a hard movie to sit through at all.  If it's around, watch it, and it may or may not end up like that Limp Bizkit album you bought when you were 14 (and you *know* you did, admit it).

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