Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Every word is part of a picture.

Is there a movie for this book?

Typically this question is uttered in that annoying why me? tone that most eleven-year-olds almost exclusively speak in (a voice-level most adults reserve for emergency situations of actual peril). Occasionally, however, sometimes, they actually opt for a query that isn't overwhelmingly douchey. Turns out, these same kids actually possess a voice that sounds almost...what's the word...oh yeah, curious. 

And as a teacher, there are two ways to handle the movie/book question: a) ignore it.

Or, the more professional response: b) lie your ass off.

Released in 1998, director Peter Chelsom's film The Mighty is based on the state-mandated/totally rad novel Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. Set in a grimy section of late-nineties Cincinnati, this coming of age story tells of the unlikely bond between two social outcasts, soon-to-be eighth graders Max and Kevin.

While there is no doubt that the novel is infinitely better, The Mighty somehow manages to still be a fairly solid companion to Philbrick's novel. Likely due to the young leads (the insanely likable Kieran Culkin as Kevin and familiar face Elden Henson playing Max) and a shockingly legit supporting cast, the bittersweet story is a improbably compelling watch. After you've read the novel, naturally, because as my (now former!) students consistently lamented, THEY LEFT SO MUCH OUT!

Max Kane is a big kid with an awful past. Currently being raised by his grandparents, Grim and Gram (years after the murder of his mother/their daughter), Max is doing all he can to simply drift through middle school, perhaps even life itself. But when the hyper-curious and obviously disabled Kevin moves in next door with his pretty mom, Gwen, this massive wallflower begins to blossom.

Initially, Max kind of feels bad for Kevin, affectionately known as Freak, as Kevin has a mysterious disability rendering him significantly smaller than the other kids at school. Quickly it's apparent that as much as Kevin needs Max, Max also really needs Kevin. Like two pubescent Voltron lions, the two (incomplete) boys join into a powerful force known as Freak the Mighty. Together, Max and Kevin get in and out of all sorts of trouble, stopping crimes and avoiding street gangs all in the name of friendship and adventure.

Maybe without reading the novel the film comes off as cheesy and overly sentimental (which it is, unquestionably), but with a little added background, it's an enjoyable step into a simpler time. These two kids genuinely care about one another, and that alone is refreshing and slightly rejuvenating, honestly. I had forgot that some kids can actually care about well, anything. And that they can be anything but shitty to one another? Pure bonus.

Also an added delight, are the Yays and Boos. Actually, they really don't add anything to well, anything, but like that kid in that back of the room that hasn't said anything all year, let's just pretend that they're super interesting. Uh, and not totally scary.

ProTip: Don't eat like a jerk in front of Max.
(you wouldn't like him when he's angry)
  • Ah, movie time. I love you so.
  • Harry Dean Stanton plays Max's scruffy, mostly disapproving grandfather...because that's why he exists.
  • The word pacifist befuddles Max, even when Freak explains, pass on the fist, get it?
  • Freak (Kieran Culkin) concocts arguably the best rudimentary pulley-system...this side of Home Alone. Apparently these mad science skills run in the family.
  • While we're talking about the aforementioned holiday classic, let's just say there's a pretty epic sledding scene (culminating in one of the best dummy tosses I've ever witnessed!).
  • Go ninja, go ninja, go! Max throws a manhole cover like friggin' Raphael during a temper tantrum. 
  • That supporting cast! Meat Loaf (lots of snickering during the credits on that one) shows up as gang leader with a heart of gold. Gillian Anderson plays Loretta Lee, basically a retarded whore. And best yet? James Gandolfini plays Max's father, the very creepy Killer Kane.
  • Speaking of giant tough guys, Culkin's Marlon Brando impersonation is all kinds of fantastic. Sure, I don't think anyone around the lunch table knew what the Hell was going on, but like typical middle schoolers, they laughed along anyway.
  • And finally, The Outsiders-style ending. While Freak the Mighty isn't as gloriously classic as the tale of Ponyboy, Johnny and Dallas Winston, I certainly appreciated the way the story wraps up in the end. Again, it's 900% better in the book, sure, but the film version has its own nice little cherry on top, you know?

Max is pretty pissed that Mulder isn't there, too.
  • Killer Kane! Killer Kane! Has a kid who got no brain! F--k these chanting little f--kers. Uh, I mean, make better choices, guys.
  • Dude, Hoop Coach is a real a-hole. He straight up bowls a basketball directly into Freak's crutches, knocks him over and could give a shit about it.
  • Gwen (Sharon Stone) drops this line: I gave birth to a seven-pound dictionary. No problem there, right? Well, there shouldn't have been, outside of Stone's decision to really emphasize the first syllable of dictionary.
  • The local bully is this turd sandwich named Blade. Not only does this little a-hole have quite the potty mouth (thanks, dick), but he's completely f--king lawless. Like, he straight up robs bitches left and right and the fuzz can't stop him. But they'll keep an eye on him, see.
  • Freak the Mighty fully stops a domestic situation in a diner, right? Their payment? Three Baby-Ruths. First? Baby-Ruths are nasty. But, second? Three? Three bars? For two kids? Ridiculous.
  • Freak's dad is a magician. And when you find out why...well, it'll saw your heart in two.
  • Colder than a witch's tit. Thanks, guys. Totally enjoyed explaining that one.
  • Is everyone always so rude to doctors doing their job? Damn, Mama Bear. Retract the claws.
  • Freak and Max have to haul ass out of some run down apartments. The problem? They have to conquer what could easily be considered the longest string of consecutive laundry lines in the history of time. In winter.
  • And finally, this is a pretty sad story. Borderline depressing. But what makes it even sadder? Well, every emotional scene is so poorly done, they actually become pretty (inadvertently) hilarious. Usually I hate when my (now FORMER!) students snicker at genuinely emotional moments, but here? I was kind of with them, dammit.

See, as soon as the students find out there's a movie for the novel we're currently reading, they either demand to watch it immediately, or even worse, go home and watch it online. Then, not only are they most likely not going to pay attention when we finally get to the movie, but they're also going to spoil the book as much as they can along the way.

Man, kids are the worst aren't they? Always ruining everything. Well, maybe not always, you know? Honestly, there's a point in the year that I genuinely love them.

I call it summer.


  1. I never saw this, but it sounds a lot like The Cure, only without AIDS. I do like that cast though. I think I might add the book to my list, though. Nice write up!

    1. I don't know what The Cure is, but uh...sounds interesting enough. I would definitely recommend the book, as you could probably tear through it in a day or two.

      As for the flick, it's incredible how much the late 1990s, when revisited in a movie, looks like the late 1980s. I don't know what it is...but the movie certainly feels...old.

      Like me.

  2. Now this is an oddity. I have read the book, but had no clue there was a movie. It's even more odd when you figure who is in the cast. How the hell did I miss this?

    1. Wait, so you didn't see it opening weekend back in 1998? I mean, it made 2.6 million at the domestic box-office, total, man. It seems like everyone missed it.

      If you do happen to give it a go on Netflix, crank that shit up to 11. Seriously, it has one of the quietest audio tracks I've ever come across. Or maybe it was a class full of knuckleheads 'not talking'.