Overlooked Film of the Week- #55
Whether we realize it or not, we are shaped by the popular culture we intake. Our favorite films, our favorite books, our favorite games, our favorite songs help mold us into the people we become. Sure, parents are a big part of that process, and so are teachers and friends and enemies and everybody else that comes into our orbit. But to overlook popular culture as irrelevant is completely insane. Everybody is affected by what they intake. Since I was around the 5th grade, I began to teach myself how to navigate the internet. From that day forward, there has not been a single day where I did not read up about movies. There has not been a single day where I have not discussed a movie, or an actor or a director or an upcoming project or anything of the sort. Sometimes when I am discussing film, people seem to look as if I speak my own language. But there are those who know that language too, and we speak it well. You can say that I have soaked myself in film or perhaps I am a little over-saturated by it. But there have been many lessons in life that I have learned through movies, which is why they are a big part of my life.
This popular culture stuff does not always affect people in positive ways. I feel like I have always veered away from being negative simply by writing. If I get something on paper or something into the ears of somebody else, I can end up okay. Sometimes people don’t always have that safeguard, they don’t have somebody to talk to. That can lead to very bad things. When the Columbine shooting occurred back in 1999, it not only changed the country, it changed the way people absorbed their daily popular culture. People lashed out against Hollywood, against the music business and against the video game business. They blamed them, and they somewhat won the battle. The war for more strict censorship in our popular culture is nothing new and I don’t think it will go away anytime soon. We could debate the importance of that censorship all night if we wanted to, with or without getting sheer prevalence.
“The Dirites” is bitter but strong look at how two teenagers are affected by the people in their lives and the popular culture they intake. It’s a film you’ll be able to predict correctly within the first twenty minutes of running time, but the powerful impact will be all the same. This is the case where a predictable plot feels fresh, and it gives insight to a subject that is still relevant today and something that should be further debated everywhere. There is also a slick humor that undercuts the film that I found absolutely spot-on. To throw humor at such a serious subject could collapse easily, but director and star Matt Johnson is smart enough to create a well-balanced story that remains important throughout.
Matt Johnson plays Matt, a version of himself. Matt is best friends with Owen (Owen Williams) and they spend all their free time making movies. They love movies so much that they have posters that cover every inch of their walls, they belong to a broadcasting club at their high school and they are constantly coming up with new ideas for movies. I immediately connected with Matt and Owen on a very personal level. When I was in grade school, I had a friend who used to make movies. I remember that I used to star in them and they were always fun to make. My friend would come to me with a crazy idea, and he’d write a adlib script, and we’d shoot it, we’d reshoot some things, we’d come up with even more ideas and shoot those, then he’d edited them together. It was always a blast and I couldn’t help but see me and my old friend in Matt and Owen. I do not know how long Matt Johnson and Owen Williams have known each other in real life, but they create a bold relationship with their acting, and it is superb work. Also listening to Matt and Owen speak was tons of fun for me on a personal level. As I analyzed every scene in the movie, listened to every piece of dialogue shared by Matt and Owen, I knew they had their own language based on their pop culture intake. I know what they digested and what they have been paying attention too and it was half the fun for me.
The movie focuses on a documentary Matt and Owen are making about bullies, which turns into a revenge movie where Matt and Owen kill all the jerks that pester them at school. I think the film accurately portrays just much bullying has changed over the years. I will happily admit that I was not the most popular person at my high school, but I was never subjected to any kind of torment by another student. What I will say is that I did witness some incidents that burned the sad truth into my head, bullying is very real and it really affects the people it is inflicted upon. It is very easy to relate to Matt and Owen and justify their need to get a movie made about this matter. What eventually molds out of these characters is two different yearnings. Matt need to take revenge on these bullies becomes a real goal, while Owen just wants to be accepted. Those feelings will eventually tear them apart.
Not only does “The Dirties” have something very important to say, it is also a very good found footage movie. Yes, I know many of you are probably tired of the device by now. I know many of you are thinking it has been used to death. The found footage movie does not have to be limited to the horror genre. In fact, with the amount of found footage that I have seen, I have come to learn that it works better in other genres, and “The Dirties” is a perfect example of it. The movie makes it clear about who “finds” the found footage, and the story around the video tapping is authentic and realistic.
I hope that Matt Johnson and Owen Williams move onto big careers, because they are both talented actors. Matt Johnson in particular proves that he has a real voice, and it desperately needs to be heard. I have a lot of admiration for people who not only direct, but act, produce and edit their own movies. I do not know from experience, but there is no way that that is an easy job, and Johnson made it all look effortless. I also liked the small but detailed work by Krista Madison who plays Chrissy, the popular girl Owen wants to date badly. Once again, I was nodding my head at how realistic Johnson plays out the scenes between Owen and Chrissy. I definitely know what it feels like to want to date the popular girl bad, but to be so shy that it’s hard to stand next to them. Williams nails all of those emotions and feelings into a nice performance.
“The Dirties” has a lot on its mind. It’s a movie about how we are affected by the popular culture we intake. I am even a shining example of someone who processes life through the popular culture I intake. Come to my apartment and you’ll see my walls littered in posters and my shelves filled with comics, books, games, music, TV shows, and yes, lots and lots of movies. What we must learn is how to use all of that to build a positive life and I feel I have done that. “The Dirties” is also a smart look at the world of bullying and how popular culture can help turn people into something different. I remained surprised that something so important was created through a movie-crazed, humorous filter and still remained relevant in the end. “The Dirties” is an important movie, absolutely worth checking out.