One of the best movies from my childhood, and one of the best made-for-TV movies of any genre!
I saw this for the first time in the first grade, when on a rainy day (they have more of those than you would imagine in South Florida!) we gathered in the school library to watch movies instead of having recess. Being a bullied klutz myself from the moment I started elementary school, I related to Milo's experiences and thought the movie was a lot of fun. I liked the movie so much I wanted to see it again so bad, but it would be years before I would track down another copy, but I eventually found one and it's been in my collection ever since.
The quality of the script, direction and performances are better than in most theatrical movies, and considering that this was a made-for-public television movie for kids from the early 80's, that's saying something! The film is loaded with interesting side characters like Milo's teacher Miss Sandwich and the three old ladies at the bus stop who are bothered by him. I especially liked the subplot about him trying to win his older brother's respect and affection, in spite of bad timing and bad judgment. This is a movie that goes above and beyond when it comes to establishing likable characters and interesting situations.
In the intervening years, I also read the book it was based on and thought that it, though funnier than the movie in a broad sense, didn't have quite the emotional impact. The third "lesson" differs between the book and the movie, and I have to say, I think the movie handles it better. In the book, Milo is directed to just sit and do absolutely nothing for twenty-four hours...this is to set up the point that being perfect is stupid and that it means doing nothing to avoid doing anything wrong. In the film, instead, the lesson is for him to do something he's never done before, and never thought he could do, while the point of "being perfect means doing nothing" is delivered at the end in passing. Sometimes establishing such a message in a brief manner is better than to belabor the point with a whole chapter of a book. I thought it was a much better idea for Milo to develop self-esteem by proving himself wrong by doing something he never thought he could. And for a kid with a history (even in first grade) of self-esteem issues, this was a liberating experience for me to see happen onscreen.
Joan Micklin Silver is quite a talented, relatively unknown director, but here she mastered character and the internal lives of children. She was to do this again nine years later in the wonderful Big Girls Don't Cry...They Get Even (AKA Stepkids). These are the only two films of hers I've seen (though I intend to see Chilly Scenes of Winter soon), but she is one of my favorite filmmakers of her generation because she has such an ear for convincing, emotional character development and a taste for fascinating characters. Even if the same script were used, this film-in the hands of a lesser director-would not be half as impactful without Silver's sense of timing and sympathetic direction.
In other words, don't be put off by this little gem by the fact that not only was it made for TV, it was made for PBS! It comes alive in a way that few mainstream theatrical movies do, and deserves to be seen.
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