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Stateside

Director: Reverge Anselmo
Cast: Rachael Leigh Cook, Jonathan Tucker, Agnes Bruckner, Joe Mantegna, Ed Begley, Jr., Diane Venora, Val Kilmer, Carrie Fisher

(Samuel Goldwyn; US theatrical: 21 May 2004 (Limited release); 2004)

Careless Driver

Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook) is a multi-threat performer, her career reeling between movies and rock ‘n’ roll, sometime in the 1980s. When she’s not crooning (seeming) parodies of The Sound of Music tunes on a soundstage with cute little kiddies, she’s writhing on a low-lit club stage with her mean-looking band. “I am a careless driver,” she sing-yells, then dissolves into mutterings. “This girl’s crazy!” observes a quick-witted audience member. Right, and when she’s not singing with her band, she’s headed back to the apartment where the guys are getting stoned and, apparently, preparing to gang-rape their frontperson. What kind of band is this, anyway?


Rather than deal with such finer points, Reverge Anselmo’s Stateside turns its attention to the boy who will endeavor to rescue Dori from herself (because, as the terrifically annoying conceit has it, she is crazy), namely, Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker). He’s an unlikely hero, to be sure. A snotty rich kid, Mark’s bored with his Connecticut Catholic high school experience, and seeks rebellion in the usual fashion, driving too fast and annoying his father, the wealthy, emotionally absent, politically powerful Mr. Deloach (Joe Mantegna), who appears to have no first name.


Mark’s acting-out misery is evidently grounded in the loss of his mother, though you wouldn’t know it from him (being the stoic sort). The film does offer up some (bizarre) form of translation in the form of his younger sister Gina (Zena Grey), who wanders around their mansion wearing her mom’s mink stole, a trace of the trauma embodied, less a full fledged character than one of those types who wanders around “eccentric ensemble” stage plays, wan and pathetic.


As this wandering about the mansion certainly wouldn’t make for a movie plot, Mark does his part, smashing his expensive sports car into the station wagon belonging to the priest who heads up his high school, Father Concoff (Ed Begley Jr.), and in the process smashing the teeth of classmate Sue (Agnes Bruckner). When her angry mom (Carrie Fisher) learns Sue’s been out carousing with boys, she puts baby girl in an asylum, where, at last, Dori reappears, as the Schizophrenic Roommate.


Serving as an all too regular plot device—enabling the damaged boy’s redemption and/or recuperation—poor Dori is a long way even from Cook’s surprisingly unperky Josie (who at least had her Pussycats for backup). Before Mark can meet the roommate, however, he must undergo penance, and so the film takes even more time before it gets to its romantic point, as Mark is sentenced (via his dad’s string-pulling and the predictable courtroom with an angry judge scene) to a stint in the U.S. Marines Corps.


While telling stories on the Marines sounds full of possibility (Anselmo is a former Marine, and the film is advertised as “based on a true story”), Stateside doesn’t do much more than rehearse clichés from other Marines movies: the shock of arrival at boot camp, the longhairs and the scrawny torsos, the trembly lips as the boys get shouted into wussy muck by the surly DI, Sergeant Skeer (Val Kilmer, whose stunt casting alone should ignite this portion of the film, but doesn’t). As Skeer puts it to the newbies, “You are here because you could not be made into men by the mothers of America.” That about sums it up: for, even as the film suggests that Dori will heal poor Mark, she can only do so by being feeble and needy.


If Mark is feeling slightly undone at boot camp (though he does show skills as a radio operator, which becomes his assignment when he’s deployed), he’s also impressed by Skeer’s man-making tactics. This in part because Skeer has it out for rich kid Mark, and treats him harshly in order to toughen him up. “Who is it here who is so fucked up that he hails from Connecticut!?” Skeer roars. And from that moment on, the Nutmegger is marked, instructed to hang upside down in a closet like a bat, squeeze his trigger with his fingers damaged, scrub the head, etc. The abuse works its expected wonders: Mark is a man by the time he asks famous schizophrenic movie star Dori out.


Compared to the sick girl, he can seem whole, ennobled, and on occasion, gallant. He invites her on a “date” by busting in on a meeting of Dori, her therapist, Mrs. Hengen (Diane Venora), and the halfway house head, as they’re discussing Dori’s Thorazine schedule. Mark and Dori scamper away, whereupon they learn they are an ideal match, fond of pretty words and witty language games. When Dori questions his interest, Mark is ready, sort of: “When you look at me, I’m free. Is this really me? Am I really this guy?” For Mark, sad, mad, and overly concerned with himself, the question is not so crucial as it is for Dori, who often can’t tell where or who she is at a given moment.


At some level, the film’s illogic might correspond to Dori’s lack of bearings, perhaps especially as these are perceived by her boy on the outside. (Though it’s unlikely that the inept editing—which literally shows Mark with a broken leg in one scene, without the cast in the next, and then with the cast again in the next—is purposeful or even “arty.”) But at another level, Stateside‘s incoherence is just that. It’s also vaguely exhausting and, by film’s end, profoundly irritating, when Mark’s at-last comprehension of Dori’s perpetual loss is finally granted via a war wound. Sheesh.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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