I have to admit, I almost teared up a little around the end of the movie, but managed to keep my composure. Then the movie ended... to dead silence! I was waiting for my friend to say something, and what he said shocked me: "What the hell was THAT?" After discussing the movie a bit, I came to the conclusion that his experiences growing up were so different than this that it was like showing a futuristic Sci Fi movie to a person living in rural Zimbabwe. In the Czech Republic, where he is from, you don't commonly have these kinds of problems. Kids get along amazingly well. You may find this hard to believe, but in the Czech Republic, grade school and high school teachers routinely take their classes to places all around Europe. They have no trouble with kids not getting along. No one has any whiny special requests, and no one refuses to share a room with someone.
Guess that explains why this movie made no sense to my friend.
However, if you are an American, as I am, this movie is deeply touching, and may even bring back unsettling childhood memories of bullies.
Scott Mechlowicz is certifiably great in this movie, as is Josh Peck, who plays George, the bully. I look back at movies from the 1970's. Child actors back then were hilariously amateurish compared to these people. In fact, movies increasingly are showcasing young actors whose talents are absolutely astounding. (unlike the kid who played opposite Lucille Ball as "Auntie Mame's grandson).
What makes this movie so compelling and memorable is that it is tragedy in the old Greek sense of the word: people bring about their own downfall. The bully George, as it turns out, has a good side, but he is socially inept, and so he lashes out in terrible ways. The kids are ready to like him and forgive him. Instead, George can't control his anger, and he verbally lashes out at everyone, until their newfound compassion (or at least pity) for him starts to evaporate.
The tragedy in this movie is that everything comes so close to working out fine for everyone.
I hope that will peak your interest. And speaking of interest, I have none in writing a "spoiler" review. This movie is best seen knowing as little as possible about the plot.
I think if I had to defend American movie making against all the criticism of how Hollywood depends on special effects, big name actors, and lurid story lines, I would choose this movie as proof that American movies are still the best in the world.
Addition added January 16, 2009: I have been writing reviews here for over three years. Sometimes years will go by without any indication someone read my review. So, please let me know if you read it. The thumbs up or thumbs down is entirely your choice. I'm just curious.