Stateside (review)

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Isn’t It Interesting

“Hey, you know, I’ve got this cousin who was in the Marines, and you won’t believe his story. He was this spoiled rich kid who pissed off his parents one too many times and got himself into trouble and instead of sending him to jail when any other poor slob of a kid would have been the judge sent him to the Marines. This was like 1980 something.”
Anyone who writes and identifies oneself to others as a writer will invariably face this situation one day: A distant relation or a slightly annoying coworker or the guy sitting next to you on the plane who won’t shut up will insist that his life (or that of his uncle or grandmother or best friend’s dogwalker) is simply fascinating, and here’s the deal: He will tell you the story and you, the writer, will write it up, and you’ll both split the profits. Everyone thinks their life (or that of their uncle, etc.) is the riveting stuff of bestsellers and Oscar-winning movies, and the truth is that this is not the case. Your fifth cousin who robbed a bank or Great Aunt Millie who was a little odd are pretty much of no interest to anyone except your family, and no serious writer is going to put aside his own pet projects to devote time to their stories on the off chance that maybe someone somewhere will think it’s worth paying any money for. (Because it won’t be.)

“But before he goes to the Marine camp or whatever they call it he meets this kinda crazy pop star and it’s like love at first sight or something. And like he can’t stop thinking about her while he’s away at training and he writes to her all the time. She’s schizophrenic or something and he meets her cuz, get this, she’s roommates at the nuthouse with a friend of his from school who he almost killed in a car wreck, and yet she’s the one committed to a mental institution. Is that something or what?”

And yet, here we have Stateside, based upon one of those true stories that isn’t really very dramatic or compelling or even a story, in the plot- or character-driven sense a narrative film demands. All first act — isn’t it fascinating how young Marine recruit Mark Deloach (Jonathan Tucker: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Deep End) and mentally ill but kookily charming pop star Dori Lawrence (Rachael Leigh Cook: Josie and the Pussycats, Antitrust) meet? — it’s like scenes cut from another, far better film. It is, very frustratingly, like excerpts from a real movie.

“So she ends up working on getting well and he’s doing his Marine thing, getting whipped into shape, and sometimes he uses his leave to see her. And they really like each other and isn’t it just kinda interesting how they met?”

There’s no real conflict in the timeline of Mark’s and Dori’s lives, together or separate, at least not that we see onscreen. Marine training is tough — SDI Skeer (Val Kilmer: Spartan, Wonderland) is a pain in the ass, but fair and dedicated and an okay guy — and halfway houses for the mentally ill are no piece of cake — counselor Mrs. Hengen (Diane Venora: Heartbreak Hospital, The Insider) is a pain in the ass, but fair and dedicated and an okay gal — and the friend Mark almost killed in the car accident that got him Marined up (Agnes Bruckner: Murder by Numbers, Home Room) holds no grudges, nor does the sainted priest (Ed Begley Jr.: A Mighty Wind, Best in Show) Mark put in a wheelchair for life, and Dori’s just so gosh-darned fun to be around, all unpredictable and with that goofy grin. Mark either has no conception of what he’s getting himself into with a relationship to a schizophrenic, or he’s just the greatest guy ever in the history of the world and will deal with it, Job-like.

“Well, no, no one really kept them apart. He got blown up in that bombing in Beirut in ’83 or whenever, but he got better and he’s just fine. And she’s doing really well on her meds. But isn’t it interesting how opposite they were? Like he’s turning into this hardass Marine all straight-edged with the ironed-in creases in his pants and she’s just like batshit crazy? Isn’t it interesting?”

As a portrait of an unlikely relationship, there might have been something to be had in Mark and Dori’s “tale,” but writer/director Reverge Anselmo doesn’t know what to do with it. Cook and Tucker are barely onscreen together, but it’s doubtful it would have helped matters much if they were: neither has the resources as a performer to make us believe in them or care much about what becomes just another trite movie romance. They don’t even converse so much as exchange pseudo poetic ruminations on life — all of it chalk-on-a-board grating as it falls on the ears only to be instantly forgotten. And delivered by these two cold, indifferent actors, the result is so forced and stilted that Stateside feels like a pretend movie, like a pale imitation of what a movie usually is.

“But, like, he was a Marine and she was a wacky pop star? Isn’t that interesting?”

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