Grade: A- (4/5 stars)
Set in 1984, “Standing Up” doesn’t try to revel in a lot of nostalgic moments. In fact, director DJ Caruso keeps the year as an afterthought. The film, which opens in select theaters on Aug. 16, is focused more on bullying and how to overcome it. As cliched as the movie sounds, “Standing Up” is a rather sweet, coming-of-age story that needs to get noticed.
The narrator of this story is Grace (Annalise Basso), but we don’t hear her name until the movie is almost over, and she only really narrates the film’s introduction and conclusion. There’s also Howie (Chandler Canterbury), but, like Grace, we don’t know his name until the movie is almost over. It’s an interesting decision to place these two kids in a film and follow them throughout their journeys without knowing their names. But the young actors make them so interesting, and their chemistry works so well, that knowing their names doesn’t really matter.
Both kids are attending a summer camp known as Camp Tall Pines. Here, they are considered the outcasts, or “goats,” of the bunch. One night, the boys strip Howie of his clothes and leave him naked in the cold. Howie stumbles to a cabin, where he meets Grace, whom has befell the same situation in the girls’ camp.
The kids escape from the camp and make their way around town. Even though they start off clotheless, the two find some attire in several cabins. Whatever they take, they promise to pay back.
Throughout the film, there are moments where it seems absurd that camp counselors would act like the ones portrayed here. Then again, it’s not surprising that some of this could actually happen. But the one bothering moment of them all is when the county sheriffs are looking for the kids, and Grace’s mother, Meg (Radha Mitchell), has yet to be notified about her daughter’s disappearance. That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
The people that Grace and Howie meet along the way are mostly rude, including Val Kilmer’s Sheriff Hofstadder, who is a bit quirky to be in law enforcement. But Kilmer does well in the performance.
There is one kid, however, who the two befriend immediately after meeting. Calvin (Adrian Kali Turner) comes from Camp Evergreen and introduces the unknowns to the camp bully as “Bonnie and Clyde.” Turner is a riot here, and even at this point, the film hasn’t said the characters’ real names.
“Standing Up” is based on Brock Cole’s bestselling, young adult novel, “The Goats.” Now the latter is a much better and more fitting title for this film than “Standing Up,” which sounds a little too generic. Even the film’s original working title, “Goat Island,” would have been a better choice. It’s understandable why Caruso chose “Standing Up” as the film’s title, since it is about overcoming bullying, but it would be nice if it had a more original title.
It’s a pity that there isn’t much marketing being given to “Standing Up.” While it doesn’t necessarily have the same amount of charm as Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which premiered at Cannes the same time as “Standing Up,” Caruso’s film is great on its own terms. Maybe word of mouth will give it a boost, especially since Walmart will have it available on Blu-ray/DVD on Tuesday, Aug. 20, just five days after the start of its theatrical run. The film will also premiere on VOD that same day.