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Mysterious Skin (2005)

September 26, 2009

3/10 Mixed Messages

This had been on my Netflix queue for what seems like ages now and, man, I kinda wish I hadn’t gotten around to it. One of those movies you watch and wonder, “What was the point and why did I bother?”


Anyway, here it goes.

Mysterious Skin is about a kid in small town Kansas whose life is changed forever when he blacks out for a few hours on Halloween, has no idea what happened during that time for the ten years following, blames it on an alien abduction, then comes to the realization that a kid he used to be on the same baseball team as ten years prior might have something to do with it. So this other kid who apparently has all the answers to these questions was actually not abducted by aliens, but rather had a lengthy homosexual relationship with their baseball coach and spent the rest of his life turning tricks with the local men in Kansas until he moved to New York City to turn even more tricks with even sketchier men. Somehow this all ties together, and yes, it is strange.

As you can imagine, this is intended to be a pretty challenging movie to sit through in both context and subtext, the only problem is that it doesn’t work, at least not in the way that it should. I’ll explain in a minute.

But first, let’s start with the big reason most anyone is going to seek this movie out – Joseph Gordon-Levitt (let’s call him The G.L. for the time being). Now, I’m a big fan of The G.L., he’s one of the best up-and-coming actors out there today and has really done a good job of establishing himself outside of his role on Third Rock from the Sun (which was a pretty funny show, The G.L. should be proud) with movies like Brick, The Lookout, and (500) Days of Summer. In Mysterious Skin,  The G.L. plays the said gay kid mentioned in the synopsis, and if he was looking for a role that would drill into everyone’s head that he’s got more range than a funny alien teenager, he hit the jackpot. But unfortunately, his character and his acting don’t exactly match up the way they should.

What I’m saying is that just because a role is demanding and challenging in that it requires you to say, simulate having sex with men even though you’re straight in real life, it doesn’t automatically make you a good actor just because you go through with it. Granted, it’s easily the most difficult role in the movie, but it’s also a very two-dimensional character that seems to revel in his lifestyle until the very, very end where it turns out he’s actually filled with remorse for the life he’s led. Who knew? I sure didn’t, and it’s a cop-out way to try and add depth to a character while resolving all the movie’s loose ends.

Point is, The G.L. is just alright here, nothing special. He’s been better.

Then again, it’s hard to blame The G.L. because this isn’t a very well-written movie to begin with, nor is it very well-directed. I’ve never seen anything else by director Gregg Araki, but I couldn’t stand his visual style and the way this movie looked like a student project. Really poor editing, really under-developed characters, and a really shoddy plot structure that feels rushed and all over the place. Sometimes you just need to take your time with a movie, sometimes it helps to draw out a scene.

And the message of the movie? Still working on that one. Don’t have sex with kids, maybe? Yup, seems like a message we all kinda knew already.

I’m all for movies that make you feel uncomfortable and challenges your moral compass, but I think my good buddy Fred put it best when he said that, “This movie would make a gay man feel uncomfortable.” And that’s what separates Mysterious Skin from a movie like Brokeback Mountain, where the former almost feels like it’s going for the shock value instead of the message and the latter is going for the opposite. I’m sure it’s shocking for a good deal of people out there to watch two men who love each other have sex in a tent, but it’s something entirely different when you have to watch outrageously grotesque sex acts performed between a grown man and little boy.

Instead of opening my eyes, Mysterious Skin just left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m sure there are some folks out there who will disagree with me on this one, but I wasn’t buying it. Another great reason to watch Brokeback instead, that’s how you mix tough roles with good acting. Word to your mother.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimée V. permalink
    September 26, 2010 1:56 pm

    I saw this movie a couple of years ago and I really liked it. This is why I tell you: DON’T try the other Araki films, because I hated them, so if you didn’t like Mysterious Skin, don’t even bother. This is his less amateur-looking flick, so…

    • September 27, 2010 12:46 pm

      Thanks for the heads up, will continue to avoid everything he’s done.

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