Bullies suck. As somebody who was victimized by them throughout my teen years, I can state this authoritatively. The classic bullies, the Biff Tannens of the world, while still around, no longer rule, replaced instead by the more democratic mobs of lesser bullies picking apart the weak. This is where Standing Up, based on the original 1984 novel The Goats, begins.
The dark obscures the essentially anonymous perpetrators of coercion and violence. The cruel collective work in shadow as they land their canoes on the shore of a small island, dragging their terrified prey into the woods. It's like something out of a horror film, made all the more horrifying by the likelihood of such a scenario being not only realistic but more commonplace than most might think.
The victims are then stripped, robbed of the security clothing affords, and ultimately of most of the remaining scraps of youthful innocence. These are the titular "goats," left overnight to fend for themselves. Grace (Annalise Basso) and Howie (Chandler Canterbury) are two literal outcasts, bearers of that indefinable mix of personality traits that mark them for ritual humiliation and ridicule.
Chandler Canterbury's guarded Howie moves and behaves like an abandoned dog. His desire for affection and attention rests just below the rippling surface, but the waters of the perpetual doubt of somebody suffering the shell-shock of neglect and even abuse flow readily over it. He's resourceful and we can see the wheels always turning, looking for an exit strategy or way to turn a bad scenario in his favor. Howie is a survivor.
Annalise Basso plays Grace with the initial timidity and confusion appropriate for a girl accustomed to a life of moderate wealth and comfort. She quickly demonstrates, however, that as these conditions fade away in the face of necessity. She pulls from the well of what appears to be a natural savvy that her mother (Radha Mitchell) must have employed to reach her apparently important position at a large firm. Grace is a negotiator and a coordinator.
Based on the 1984 novel The Goats, Standing Up tackles that difficult era between childhood and adulthood. This period is always made worse by the artificial layers of social strata held in place by those who fear seeing their stock slip lower. The film even tackles this reality when it questions if, given the chance to have been the bullies rather than the bullied, the protagonists would have taken left another pair of kids in their place.
Comparable to Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, but without the storybook feel, Standing Up features an excellent cast, engaging plot, gorgeous cinematography, moving score and should give viewers plenty to think about and discuss. It's a film that parents would do well watching with their children, particularly those aged ten and older.