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Being a parent has its advantages.
If I weren’t a parent, I probably would have skipped going to see Holes and I would have missed out on a real gem of a movie.
Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is cursed. Literally. His entire family has been cursed on the male side since his great-great-grandfather reneged on an agreement with a gypsy (Eartha Kitt) back in the old country. Nothing they do ever comes out right. Not his great-grandfather who made a fortune and was robbed by Kissing Kate Barlow (she only kissed the men she killed). Not his father (Henry Winkler), the inventor who has been trying to find a cure for foot odor for years and has only succeeded in getting them evicted for making an entire building smell like feet. And not Stanley. Especially not Stanley.
One day, a pair of shoes comes flying through the air, hits Stanley in the head and into the juvenile justice system. It appears the shoes he now held were donated by a baseball superstar and then stolen from a charity auction.
For the theft he didn’t commit Stanley is sentenced to eighteen months at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp in the middle of the desert where there is no green and no lake, and the motto is: “You take a bad boy, make him dig holes in the hot sun all day, and it turns him into a good boy.”
Every day, Stanley and his fellow delinquents must rise before dawn and go out into the dry lakebed that was once Green Lake and dig a hole five feet deep by five feet in diameter. They must contend with the occasional scorpion, rattlesnakes and the incredibly poisonous and feared Yellow Spotted Lizard.
The staff of Camp Green Lake is even more dangerous than the lizards, however. Mr. Sir (Jon Voight, being gloriously evil, wicked, mean and nasty) and Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) are the counselors that drive the boys to dig their holes and report if they find anything “interesting”. When asked what they’re looking for, Mr. Sir responds cryptically, “You’re not looking for anything. You’re building character.” They work for The Warden (Sigourney Weaver), a woman who paints her nails with rattlesnake venom and who it seems IS very much looking for something.
The casting of the kids from Camp Green Lake was tight, each one with a distinctive nickname, personality and quirks. From Armpit to X-Ray, they dig their holes and add to the story, but never cross the line into sappiness or comic relief. Zero (Khleo Thomas), a silent boy with exceptional digging skills, soon becomes Stanley’s best friend and helps him unravel the mystery in which they find themselves embroiled.
Holes, an adaptation of a book by Louis Sachar, tells three different stories: Stanley’s time at the camp, the story of his great-great grandfather and the curse, and the tragic interracial romance of Sam and Mary Lou (which makes the phrase “I can fix that” one of the most romantic things a man could say, right up there with “As you wish”). The stories move in and out, seeming at first to be completely unrelated until they come together in such a way ties up everything so completely that you’re almost shocked at how well it all fits together.
Normally, I would say that such a neat ending would be clichéd, but this movie does it in such away that it simply feels right, like a comfortable shoe.
I really can’t say much more about the plot because that would give away too much about this movie, and that would be a crime. The performances are incredible, especially Jon Voight who exudes menace through every pore, but still made me laugh out loud as many times as he made me wince with his casual cruelty towards the inmates. The story is tight and well told, drawing you in from the beginning and not letting you go until the very end when even the smallest detail figures into the total story.
The soundtrack also struck me as especially energetic and easy on the ear, especially “Dig It” by D-Tent Boys and “Eyes Down” by Eels. I’m definitely adding it to my “must buy” list along with the original book and the DVD when it comes out.
It’s very rare that I go to a children’s movie and feel satisfied with what Hollywood is dishing out to my daughter. This time I can confidently say that she wasn’t spoken down to, patronized, or insulted. I’m unlikely to feel the same way after The Lizzy McGuire Movie next weekend, but that’s all part of being a parent I suppose.