Standing Up, directed by D.J. Caruso, is based on the 1987 young adult book The Goats by Brock Cole. It’s about two nerdy kids at summer camp – pragmatic Howie (Chandler Canterbury) and sensitive Grace (Annalise Basso) – who are victims of the cruel camp “tradition” of being stripped naked and ditched on an island named Goat Island. Howie finds Grace huddled in an abandoned cabin, sobbing, and sets to work finding a light, finding something to cover himself, etc. At first it appears that the kids have been abandoned the entire night, but the boats return and Howie and Grace believe it is bullies coming back to taunt them. (We learn later that counselors had come to rescue them.)
Howie urges the blanket-wrapped Grace out towards the beach, hiding behind bushes, and then actually convinces her to swim for it. Their sense of terror and their inane 12-year-old logic is well-portrayed. The two runaways hold onto a branch and kick themselves away into the darkness, washing up on a different shore somewhere in the morning.
Grace, who is truly adorable with her enormous ’80s glasses (I had those) and messy red hair, is appalled to discover that Howie must have re-covered her with the blanket on the beach while she was asleep, and the poor thing demands that he never, ever tell anyone. It’s a sharp reminder of how much more vulnerable adolescent girls can feel about their bodies than boys. When Howie finds an empty cabin and steals them some clothes, it’s the first of a handful of moments that aren’t quite believable: although Grace wears a shirt that’s too big for her, they both seem to have shoes that fit just fine.
Grace’s call to her mom (Radha Mitchell) is a disaster and another reminder of how young the kids are. Instead of describing the incident, she just cries and begs to go home, sounding as if she’s merely homesick. Her mom, a harried single parent and attorney, tells her to “be tough” until the parent weekend on Saturday, unaware that Grace is no longer even at camp. Since Howie claims his parents are in Greece, the kids decide to stick together and not return to camp until the weekend.
Leaving I.O.U.’s for everything, they steal change from a car for food and clothes from a beach locker (this time, the clothes somehow fit perfectly!), and manage to sneak onto a bus for a different summer camp. Meanwhile Grace’s mom has been informed that Grace is missing, and when she comes to camp, the head counselor is insulting and cavalier, claiming the Goat Island tradition is harmless. One can only imagine the lawsuits this would be generate nowadays…!
The kids at the new camp are extremely nice to Howie and Grace, which, although certainly possible, seemed a bit realistic. The boy who speaks up for them on the bus mentions an abusive father later, and that gives us a little insight into his sympathy, but the fact that the girls let Grace sleep in their cabin and even share a bed, doesn’t ring true. When a truly weird bully hits on Grace it seems contrived as well.
The crush Grace and Howie develop on each other is very sweet and innocent, and as Grace comes out of her shell, we learn that Howie has a secret which explains his pragmatism and resourcefulness. Before they return to camp, Val Kilmer has a brief but funny scene as a drunken ranger that tries to turn them in but is so inappropriate they think he must be a kidnapper.
The movie finds a way to end things on a realistic but positive note that is heartwarming, and there’s a pleasant sense of nostalgia mixed with relief at the passing of awkward adolescence. It also made me want to bring back the expression “super fine fox”! Ah, the ’80s. The movie opens today exclusively at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.