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Movie Review: Mad World

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 5, 2011

Teenagers wearing orange prison jumpsuits

Mad World, written and directed by Cory Cataldo, is like a deliriously deranged ABC After School Special. Coming in, appropriately enough, when the subject of bullying is in the national consciousness, the film takes a bunch of disaffected and amoral teenagers, tosses in liberal doses of illicit drug use, sprinkles in clueless and abusive authority figures and adds a dash of John Waters for a thick, chaotic concoction.

Although, viewers will have to be patient to get to the juicy parts after a dry first half. There’s a lot of set-up to wade through before the lives of the four main protagonists starts going, literally, to hell.

We’re immediately introduced to our sad sack main character, Will (Dylan Vigus), a directionless, layabout, obese teenager who’s stuck moving to a new town with his divorced, abusive father (James Peak). Almost equally immediately, Will hooks up with his stoner soulmates.

They are: Cory (Gary Cairns), the kind of troublemaker your parents would tell you to steer clear of and John (Matthew Thompson), a pleasant African-American boy adopted and raised by lily white parents.

The threesome get to know each other while getting high, then getting in trouble for getting high, then, it’s off to high school where they pick up the final member of their outcast quartet: Jevon (James Lee), a straight-A student who drops acid all day long and whom Will describes as “you’ll turn to salt if you look directly at him.”

Of course, all four are picked on by their their elitist, racist, bullying classmates and thusly have no one to air their grievances to except each other since all the indifferent authority figures finger them as the instigators. So, it’s off to do more drugs and rebel in their own little petty ways, which includes bizarre acts like quacking in class.

Although Will is clearly the main character — he narrates the entire film — Cataldo spreads his focus across all four protagonists, which has a bit of a diluting affect. Cory’s home life is never gone into much detail, John’s odd upbringing isn’t mined for the proper laughs or shock and Will’s dad is just a generic, belt-whipping drill sergeant type.

The most interesting of the kids is Jevon, around whom the explosive last act revolves. A juvenile prank committed by all the protagonists and involving gay rainbow stickers and jocks’ cars’ rear bumpers results in extreme consequences hitherto unseen in the relatively tame first half of the film.

One can appreciate Cataldo’s slow simmer. The protagonists’ friendships all seem very genuine. They actually are all bonded beyond the drug use and the bullying. Plus, all four actors also bring an ease and naturalness to their roles, so it is fun hanging out with them and one does become concerned for them and how they’re going to handle their increasingly desperate situations.

The kids, though, are not equipped with the proper tools to realize that the best way to get revenge on one’s enemies is to live better than them, not worse. Although they feel they have no way out from their misery — as victims of abuse typically do — there are always options. The protagonists may all be heterosexual, but the “It Gets Better” campaign still would have been perfect for them. But, what turns into an unfortunate outcome for the foursome, makes for a more thrilling movie for us, the audience.

Will’s opening narration teases that Mad World is going to be an uplifting tale of redemption and fitting in, like just about every other teen drama about misfits ever made. Instead, Cataldo happily gives us something more deranged, a degenerate swirl into the lowest pits the protagonists could sink to.

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