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Movie Review: 2002 NYUFF: Standing By Yourself

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 7, 2002

B&W photo of a teenage punk with a mohawk from Josh Koury's Standing By Yourself documentary

Josh Koury‘s Standing By Yourself is a good advertisement for the promotion of teaching Buddhism in American high schools.

It’s also good film because I always get excited when I learn something brand new and interesting. Standing By Yourself taught me a new word: tussin. An example of its use is: “I was tussin so bad, I couldn’t stop throwing up.” But, as a verb, to “tussin” means to swallow a whole bottle of cough syrup in one gulp in order to get high (the word is derived from the medicine Robitussin).

The kids in Koury’s documentary tussin a lot. The film follows, for the most part, the antics of two teenagers, Siegfried and Adam. Adam is Josh’s brother and Siegfried (whose first name is also Josh) is a wannabe anarchist punk, but instead of having a philosophy he’s just a sad kid crying out for attention.

Both kids — and by extension the director — come from broken homes and it’s never really clear why these two are even friends, other than they share a mutual admiration for drinking, doing drugs and tussin. Adam and Siegfried’s immature antics may prove to be shocking to some people, but they don’t ever really do anything too serious and damaging. Siegfried does serve a brief stint in jail served during the course of filming, but it’s not for any serious charge.

But, in regards to my opening comment that Standing By Yourself is ultimately a pro-Buddhism movie, the film mostly made me wonder how empty a person’s life has to be that downing cough syrup, some of the nastiest tasting shit on the planet, just to get a slight buzz sounds like a good idea. These kids don’t seem to believe in anything and you have to wonder where their failure to learn any positive values comes from. Unfortunately, they’re not getting any at home, which isn’t to blame or criticize their parents who appear to be just too stressed out to give the attention their out-of-control sons need. It’s my own warped opinion that if these kids learned a little about personal responsibility through Buddhism maybe they wouldn’t be such a fucking mess.

One of the odder issues surrounding Standing By Yourself, though, was the distinct lack of females in the film. The only women we see really are Adam and Siegfried’s mothers. There are no sisters and not only do the boys not have girlfriends — thank god! — but they never even really talk about girls. After the film’s screening during a Q&A session, an audience member asked Josh Koury about this puzzling omission and the director did say he cut out any reference to females in the film, including his and Adam’s sister. Maybe the footage Josh had regarding women didn’t amount to much and that’s why he left it out.

Josh also said that Adam and Siegfried were into much harder drugs than the ones they’re shown doing in the film, which I thought was another bizarre omission but which Koury may have left out just to cast his brother in a somewhat better light and not to give their mother a heart attack when she saw the film (which she has and which Josh reports she took relatively well).

This makes the film a little schizophrenic. Koury also stated that he tried to keep his distance from his subject matter, but had to get involved after he saw how fucked up his brother and his friend were getting. I get the feeling that Koury wants us to feel as sympathetic to his subjects as he was and that they will survive their “angry youth” period and will come out the better for it.

Standing By Yourself is just about an hour long. I think Koury should seriously think about doing a sequel in a few years to see if his premise holds up.

Continue on to 2002 NYUFF: Resin.

Go back to 2002 NYUFF: The Atlas Moth.

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