Standing By Yourself

"Very Good"

Standing By Yourself Review


The recklessness and self- destructive posturing of young people has a long history of being sensationalized by the movies, generally made by grown-ups long out of touch with youth culture. From Reefer Madness to Kids, something gets lost in the translation. That's why Standing by Yourself is so prevalent, suggesting that the only way to capture that side of life is through osmosis. Director Josh Koury started this documentary as part of his senior thesis project, running around with his kid brother's bad apple friends and shooting their boredom-alleviating mischief with a consumer market Hi-8 camera. It's the type of project that may have been started just for fun (what kid doesn't like to have his shenanigans captured on tape?) and steadily evolved into something deeper: a non-condescending document of suburban bad boys who steal, drink, and do drugs as a desperate means of entertainment.

Koury's brother Adam is one of those bright under-achievers who no doubt finds the company of degenerates more fulfilling than generic high school preppies. And Standing by Yourself discovers its maladroit protagonist in rebellious Josh Siegfried, a little boy lost disguising hismelf in punk attitude. Siegfried's pimply tough-guy mug is forever plastered with a giddy, willfully ignorant grin. Whether picking a fight with a less than reliable friend or stirring up trouble with shopping mall security guards, Siegfried's acting for the camera in ways that bring to mind Oscar Wilde's quote, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he'll tell you the truth." Standing by Yourself, by nature, can't perceive what makes Siegfried the way he is, but what he doesn't show or tell, what he's willing to perform, allow for plenty of inference.

The video looks rough and shoddy, the sound quality passable. But what it loses in image quality is made up for through immediacy. Josh Koury's camera is on the front lines of his subject's lives. A long early sequence weaves through one night's progression from hastily made plans to zombified, drug-induced giggle-stupors in the back seat of what is probably the filmmaker's car. This innocuous comical opening has its innocent boyishness slapped aside when Standing by Yourself jumps to several months later. Siegfried is a changed man after 100 hours of community service, but sporting a flashy Mohawk he's only more entrenched in his wannabe rebel spirit. Adam, on the other hand, is slowly moving toward a more responsible friendship with the bland but affable J.J. (a typical suburban kid without that spark in Siegfried's eyes). Splitting into two parallel stories, Siegfried drifts around like a fish out of water looking for fun where he can find it and Adam bitterly entrenches himself in mundane family life: "I cleaned this part of the house over here, and this whole part over here!" he grouses to mom, indicating where the camera should look.

That awareness is the key to Standing by Yourself, but Josh Koury takes a few misguided turns. It feels like he figured out the movie midway through then felt the need to highlight what he learned instead of letting us discover that stuff for ourselves. A highlight is when Josh's mother lectures him on-camera for videotaping and observing instead of actually helping his brother out feels honest and cutting (and we get the sense that mom is so used to being filmed every hour of the day that it hardly matters that she'd allow such an intimate moment on tape; she probably didn't think it would go any further than Josh's camcorder.) But Josh doesn't let that speak for itself, cutting to a black-and-white image (shot on film) of the filmmaker gazing stoically into the camera. It implicates the filmmaker, sure, but it's something already inherent in his video material. Showing additional stoic film images throughout of Siegfried, Adam, and some of the other kids and adults don't offer revelations either; it feels like a film school flourish in an otherwise unaffected documentary. It's meant to peer into their souls, but instead comes off as a filmmaker's device. Sometimes, it works, though. The parents in particular have wrinkles in their faces and experience in their eyes that only really comes through on film, in those static images that take a moment (or a breath) to look into them.

Josh Koury generally avoids obvious metaphors, allowing the images to speak for themselves. He lingers on the pained visages of Adam's Vietnam vet father (who they steal drugs from) and overweight, lethargic brother Rich. There's also a nasty sequence where Siegfried, after a night of excessive partying, vomits around every corner ("I feel better now," he brags.) It doesn't feel exploitative or even shocking because of the filmmaker's empathetic stance and Siegfried's show-off willingness to be exposed. Instead, Standing by Yourself is a haunting and thorough stance. It's what punk rock music used to be, and what the video medium could use more of: spirit, perception, conviction.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 65 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 15th May 2002

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

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