erasing clouds

DVD Review: Stevie

by erin hucke

The trailer for Stevie would have you believe it's a movie for urban filmgoers to point and laugh at Stevie Fielding's backward ways and trailer livin'. But this four-year glimpse into his self-destructive life proves to be a much more painful journey than anticipated.

The film tells the story of Stevie, a young man born and raised in poor, rural southern Illinois. After being tossed from family member to family member as a child, Stevie became the "little brother" of graduate student Steve James for a few years. After finishing school, James left, starting a new life in Chicago, abruptly abandoning Stevie who had come to rely on his friendship. Years pass for James, while Stevie goes through a train of foster homes, encountering few loving people and likely more abuse.

Flash forward to Stevie at age 24 when James, now an established director (Hoop Dreams), re-enters Stevie's life with plans to make a film about his unique character and life struggle. While Stevie had become fairly used to being in trouble with the law, it's during filming when he is charged with a more serious crime than in the past -- the sexual molestation of a young cousin.

After being away for more than ten years and back only periodically, it would have been very easy for James to return to his middle-class life in Chicago and forget about Stevie once again. But he doesn't do that. James truly befriends Stevie and sticks with him throughout his criminal sentencing.

Toward the end of the film, it's not totally clear what is more important to James: finishing the film without exploiting Stevie or redeeming himself to the little brother he failed. Probably a bit of both, though I can't imagine either was an easy job.

But it is easy to pity Stevie and his situation, and I was disturbed that people like him can be written off and corrupted so easily. However, the limited exploration into Stevie's psyche kept me from feeling deep compassion for him. There was no explanation of why he committed crimes, other than recognizing that violence begets violence.

Stevie implores why some people fall through the cracks of society, ending up in lives and situations the rest of us cannot imagine living. Ironically, the film lacked much of what the trailer promoted: the likeable, goofy elements that made you want to root for Stevie. I didn't see the film I expected to see, but what I saw was exponentially more affecting.

Issue 16, October 2003

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