STANDING UP – Blu-ray review

Brock Cole is an award-winning children’s author whose novels for young adults have often been the subject of controversy. More than any of his peers, he’s had his books appear on the American Library Association’s list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books—including The Goats, a 1987 novel about a cruel tradition at a summer camp that has boys luring the weakest among them to an island, then stripping him naked and leaving him there for a while. The girls at camp do the same thing to one of their own—or rather, the one who fits in the least. Marooned most often are the geeks, the nerds, the misfits, the kids who would be made fun of, bullied, or shunned during the school year by a different group of insensitive “cool” kids.

The New York Times Book Review named The Goats a Notable Children’s Book of the Year, and “Standing Up” tells the story of two kids who feel so humiliated and hurt by their experience that they go on the run instead of waiting to be picked up again, taken back to camp, and facing the rest of the summer with their tormentors.

I did not read the book, so I can’t make comparisons, but I can see why it might have been challenged, if the content is even close to what we get in the film. “Standing Up” implies standing up to bullies, which is a brave but not always healthy thing to do. Running is more practical, but not terribly empowering. There’s a single incident when the pre-teen boy comes to the rescue of his companion, but that involves a blindsided leg sweep like the bad guys did to “The Karate Kid.” Not terribly noble. Neither are some of the other things they have to do to survive.

When you’re naked and on the run with no place to go, it kind of forces you to do one of two things:  go to some authority or adult and seek help, or go it on your own. With no money and no clothes and no place to sleep, the latter requires a certain amount of thievery and deception. With police looking for them, they become, to an extent, outlaws on the run, and they give their names to other kids they meet along the way as Bonnie and Clyde—so the lawlessness didn’t escape the author. Yet, (curiously), “Standing Up” proudly bears the Dove Family Seal of Approval. Maybe that’s because of a tone that more closely resembles an indie film than a crime drama, and because Grace (Annalise Basso) and Howie (Chandler Canterbury) are more desperate than they are desperadoes.

Will bullies see this film and reform? Probably not. For one thing, I can’t imagine bullies or non-readers watching indie films, and even if they do give this a chance they’ll be squirming over the typically slow indie pacing and the focus on character development. The action picks up in the third act, but by then most young viewers—even readers—may have already lost patience. My ‘tween daughter did, though in fairness I should say that comedies, not dramas, are her preferred genre.

“Standing Up” is supposed to be set in 1984, but the way Grace’s mother (Radha Mitchell) dresses as a lawyer seems more contemporary. I mean, where are the shoulder pads? The big hair? Adults come off in this film about as well as they do in Disney Channel movies. In fact, the only “normal,” praiseworthy characters are the two young runaways and their African-American counterparts at a different camp—which, of course, exposes the story’s artifice, as how convenient is it that one girl and one boy out of a different camp would be sympathetic to Bonnie and Clyde? A situation with a bully there also gets resolved way too quickly, and there are times when the film starts to feel like an Afterschool Special.

But the positives in “Standing Up” are the cinematography and the performances of the two young stars, who rise to the occasion whether a scene calls for anguish, fear, self-loathing, sadness, sexual tension, or resolve. Canterbury came to the project with a number of feature films under his belt (“Repo Men,” “A Bag of Hammers,” “Little Red Wagon”), but it was Basso’s first major role in a film. Together, they have such good chemistry that it’s easy to believe them as characters.

“Standing Up,” which has a runtime of 93 minutes, is rated PG for “thematic elements including bullying and for brief smoking and language.” But it’s pretty squeaky clean. The nudity is implied, not shown, and even a hotel room scene is handled “chastefully.”

For now, “Standing Up” is only available at Walmart. It’s presented in a letterboxed 16×9 that fills out the screen. I saw just one or two instances of haloing, but aside from that the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer looked to be a good one. Colors are fully saturated without seeming artificial, and skin tones look terrific. What’s more, there’s no significant loss of detail in night scenes.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 than channels ambient sounds nicely across the back speakers. There’s a nice clarity and purity of tone, and when the volume cranks up for action scenes the sound is powerful enough and has directional logic. Subtitles are in English SDH.

This is a combo pack, so there’s a DVD and Vudu Digital Copy included. Apart from the theatrical trailer there’s just a seven-minute “behind the scenes” feature that shows the stars on the set talking about their characters. Basso tells how nervous she is before one scene because “I’ve never been kissed in my life.” We get to hear from the director as well, and a co-producer, with behind-the-scenes footage mostly in the background.

Bottom line:
“Standing Up” marks a shift in direction for D.J. Caruso (“I Am Number Four,” “Eagle Eye,” “Disturbia”), and fans of his may wish that he brought just a little more tension and suspense to this project as well. The film’s pathos at times seems all-consuming, to where a little more suspense along the way might have helped hold the attention of younger viewers.