StandingUpwebcoverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  Yes (but it’s slow)
2013, 93 min., Color
Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying and for brief smoking and language
Arc Entertainment
Aspect ratio:  16×9
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  D
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Vudu digital copy

Standing Up is D.J. Caruso’s film adaptation of The Goats, a popular juvenile novel by Brock Cole that’s been among the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, according to the American Library Association. I can see why.

Standing Up tells the story of 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, bullied, or shunned during the school year by a different group of insensitive “cool” kids. Camp counselors look the other way so this “tradition” can continue, but this year’s “goats” feel so humiliated and hurt by their experience that they go on the run instead of waiting to be picked up again and taken back to camp.

“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. Also, there’s a single incident when the pre-teen boy comes to the rescue of his companion, yet that involves a blindsided leg sweep like the bad guys did to The Karate Kid. It’s not terribly noble, and in fact strikes me as something a bully might do.

The two kids become to an extent, outlaws on the run, and they model behavior that isn’t exactly what you’d want your kids to do:  they lie, they steal, they scam their way into a motel, and they tell other kids they meet along the way that their names are Bonnie and Clyde—so their 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 the readers among them—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 you wouldn’t know it from the visual design. For one thing, the way Grace’s mother (Radha Mitchell) dresses as a lawyer seems more contemporary. I mean, where are the shoulder pads? The big hair?

StandingUpscreenAdults 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, because how convenient is it that one girl and one boy out of a different camp would be sympathetic to the runaways? A situation with a bully there also gets resolved way too quickly, all of which make the film start 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. The nudity is implied, not shown, and brief sexual tension between the two ‘tweens is handled “chastefully” enough that it’s most suitable for the entire family to watch—if, that is, you’re not bothered by pint-sized versions of Bonnie and Clyde. For now, it’s only available at Walmart.