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Standing Up

2013 | PG | 2.39:1

Standing Up


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Theatrical release date

 16 August, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Screenshots from Standing Up Blu-ray

Standing Up Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 15, 2013

As a film director, D.J. Caruso has primarily pursued more bubblegum thriller material with “I Am Number Four” and “Eagle Eye,” while inspecting the dark side of life in pictures such as “The Salton Sea” and “Taking Lives.” “Standing Up” is a major change of pace for the helmer, who loses interest in visual effects and suspense set pieces to make a movie about two kids getting to know each other in the wake of a terrible incident involving summer camp bullying. It’s a sweet, sensitive story, guided benevolently by Caruso, who emphasizes the tale’s kindness and bittersweet qualities, creating one of the more humane tales of preadolescence to hit screens in some time.

Targeted by their fellow campmates for an annual tradition of humiliation, Grace (Annalise Basso) and Howie (Chandler Canterbury) are stripped naked and abandoned inside a vacant cabin on an island. Refusing to give into the bullies, Howie plans for an escape, persuading Grace to join him as they flee the campgrounds and head out to locate safety wherever they can find it. As they work to obtain fresh clothes, meals, and a camera to document their runaway adventure, Grace grows concerned about her overworked mother, Meg (Radha Mitchell), who brought her daughter to camp to toughen her up. While his partner has a longing to return home, Howie resists the idea, feeling more secure on the run, where the pair dodges camp officials (Kate Maberly) and drunken deputy Hofstadder (Val Kilmer) to preserve their freedom, getting to know each along the way.

“Standing Up” is adapted from the 1987 novel “The Goats,” by Brock Cole, reportedly a hot potato young adult book due to its portrayal of intimacy between Howie and Grace, and the story’s hazing introduction, where the children are forced to manufacture a defense in the nude. Caruso retains the writing’s period position, setting the film in 1984, though he resists the urge to underline the era, playing the picture as a timeless tale of young characters bonding in their bleakest hour. It’s a convincing pairing between outcasts, the “Goats” of the camp, who’ve been selected for their vulnerability and overall gawkiness around the juvenile elite, pushed into an unsettling situation where Howie and Grace essentially rebuild their lives on the go, looking to shed their weaknesses through minor acts of deception and theft, though nothing that can’t be covered with an I.O.U. from Howie, who’s aware of his survival transgressions, keeping a logbook of his monetary dent.

These are thoughtful young characters, and clearly the opportunity to capture this essence of intelligence and emotional complexity is why Caruso decided to adapt the book for the screen. Howie and Grace are richly defined and honest with themselves, making them approachable kids with genuine feelings, struggling to process the sting of bullying and their unwanted outsider brand. Grace is stuck with her family’s broken marriage, failing to convince her mother that space camp would be a more valued summertime pursuit, while Howie’s true situation is positioned as the mystery of the movie, teasing the reason why the boy would rather remain a fugitive, building a new life with his pal, than return to camp. It’s heartfelt storytelling, showing interest in the kids’ trepidations (the treatment of bullying as a symptom of loneliness is agreeably handled), treating their woe as authentically as possible, which comes to bury Meg in guilt after ignoring her daughter’s teary pleas to leave camp.

Putting two pre-teens together does generate a few hormonal surges, though everything is tastefully arranged by Caruso, handling the flirtations as alien to kids typically isolated from their peers. Less effective are attempts to build suspense, with the Hofstadder encounter clumsy, pulled from a Disney matinee diversion from the 1970s, bringing in a threat that’s unnecessary, as most of “Standing Up” does just fine with scenes devoted to small-time scams that secure the pair food and shelter as they make their way to nowhere in particular.

“Standing Up” is a welcome change of pace for Caruso, who’s forced to come up with a touch of sincerity to help cover for a limited budget, leading with Howie and Grace’s worry and developing sense of trust. The ending aches to extract tears, yet it’s a mild manipulation, and one that’s earned by this kindly, thoughtful drama -- a comfortable alternative for families burned out on animated releases.

Starring: Chandler Canterbury, Annalise Basso, Val Kilmer, Radha Mitchell
Director: D.J. Caruso

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