Directed by Andrew Douglas
It’s difficult to tell John and Mark’s story off the printed page. In the Vanity Fair article that lends this film its name—which, if you want to be surprised, then stop reading—journalist Judy Bacharach introduced American audiences to the tawdry tale of two 14-year-old British boys, one of whom persuaded the other to stab him in an alley. Most of the story is set in instant messages, with one kid playing myriad characters in a virtual reality: John pretended to be his sister (with whom Mark would fall in love), her abusive boyfriend, a middle-aged MI-5 agent, and others in an effort to get Mark to pay attention to him and, when things got too complicated, attempted-murder him.
It’s a lurid, tabloid-ready story that would obviously make for great cinema if not for one thing: it’s almost entirely text-based and locked into screens. Like Two Boys, Nico Muhly and Craig Lucas’s recent opera for the Metropolitan based on the same article, uwantme2killhim? solves this problem by structuring the story literally (and has people talking out loud to computer monitors), finding actors to portray the roles John invents, then finishes with a twist ending and a big reveal. The movie, however, plays down the increasing absurdity of the situation, taking its revealed terrorist conspiracies and John’s sudden brain tumor as legitimate, Hollywood-worthy swerves. Mark then becomes the embodiment of the Naive Viewer (or Reader, or whatever), who’ll lend credibility to ludicrous plotting—who will willingly indulge cliches and stereotypes—because he wants to believe the good story; his problem is he doesn’t (or won’t) realize the story isn’t real, and what for most people is vicarious becomes for him his actual life.
But uwantme2killhim? ignores how Mark could be so naive: he’s attractive, popular with boys and girls at school. Is it just adolescence? Epic, uncontrollable emotions driving him self-righteously to prove his maturity and believe that he’s special? The film even leaves out the bicurious relationship John and Mark had developed in real life—here, Mark is sexually popular with women—so you can’t even try to understand their relationship as two lonely boys inventing and believing crazy stories to make sense of their sad, confusing lives; instead, you just have one suicidal weirdo and his dumb, gullible bestie. Director Andrew Douglas and screenwriter Mike Walden come to resemble their characters: like their hero, they’re suckers for a good story that fits nearly into existing structures; like their villain, they are storytellers as manipulators, exploiting those narrative forms for their own ends: in this case, not self-destruction—just a little box-office.
Opens March 14 in LA. Everywhere Else, Available On-Demand