Thursday, February 04, 2010

Stevie (2002)

USA, 140 minutes, documentary
Director: Steve James

I like documentaries for many different reasons—I think they can do all kinds of things that fictional films simply can't—and this to me is of a very particular variety, not often encountered: the variety that has a terrible truth to tell, a truth so terrible that you sense it almost immediately. And then almost immediately wish you didn't have to endure it, coming down on you like heavy weather, like a flood slowly swallowing your house. On something of a lark, filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) detours from his life—now established, with a wife, a kid, a career, though not exactly straight-up American middle-class—to look up a young man, the titular Stevie, whom he had mentored 10 years earlier as part of a Big Brother program in southern Illinois. What he finds is not good. In fact, it's awful, just about every bit of it, raw and blisteringly painful. This is long for a documentary, over two hours, but once in I found myself wishing there were more—maybe just wishing things could be different. Yet in spite of all of Stevie's problems, all his off-putting characteristics, he remains a likeable enough and even somewhat sympathetic character. And more: as James takes pains to show, he is in fact actually liked, loved even. Therein lies the rub. Oh, don't watch this. It will only wound you.

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