This week marks the DVD release of Cartoon Network's live action teen-aged comedy "Contest" starring Danny Flaherty as bullied high school student Tommy Dolen and Kenton Duty as his swim cap sporting arch-nemesis Matt Prylek. The film also stars Mary Beth Peil, Katherine McNamara, and even "Phil of the Future" star Raviv Ullman has a short role as the cooking game show host.
The film revolves around the bullied Tommy dealing with an interesting set of emotional and physical obstacles he must overcome. One of those obstacles is Matt, a swimming star with his own set of issues -- issues he decides to take out on Tommy. But after the two have the confrontation to end all confrontations, they must put their differences aside to become an unlikely dynamic duo and win a cooking contest that could save Tommy's Pizzeria. Does something smell a bit fishy to you? Well it does to Sarah (McNamara) -- Tommy's potential love interest, as well.
What ensues... was not what I was expecting. Does this help or hinder the movie's message? Read on to find out.
1. Teens Will Have Trouble Relating.
I love comedy, I love drama. So naturally, I love a great dramedy. But as soon as I hit play, I could instantly tell that I was not the film's target audience. I even caught myself saying, "This is quite immature." Comparatively, when I first watched "Stand By Me" I was blown away by how real the whole film felt; I had relationships like those displayed in that '80s classic. The adventure that those kids embarked on stuck with me and I believed it could really happen. "Contest" doesn't feel that way. While I was watching, I got the impression that writer/director Anthony Joseph Guinta had forgotten what it was like to be in high school and as a result, the movie doesn't seem terribly personal -- to anybody.
2. It Struggles to Depict The Nasty Realism of Bullying
When "Contest" is trying to give you a harsh look at reality, the movie still feels fake. In one scene, a character is severely beaten in a bathroom. Two older, stronger kids team up on the boy and severely beat him. They stomp, punch, and kick this kid into what should be oblivion. The way it's filmed doesn't show all this, but the way the bodies move make it quite clear that this poor kid will probably need to be hospitalized. He is shown the next day with a small bruise on his face.
3. The Movie's Message Suffers For the Happy Ending
This kind of subject matter is not meant for the small screen. Considering how prominent an issue bullying is, this needs to attract the attention of a diverse audience that they can think about the effect they can have on another person. In the end (SPOILER ALERT) Tommy gets the girl, the good guys win, and the bad guys lose. But is that really how it works? Do the good guys always come out on top? I'm not sure I can get behind that idea.
Bully and victim developing a relationship? I can get behind that. I've seen that happen, I've lived on both sides of that line. I can also get behind them striving towards a common goal and fighting the good fight to achieve something. But I can't get behind an anti-bullying sabotage thriller, which is what this movie turns into. Bullying is a very real issue, but this film brushes the bullying aspect under the rug, and that's not okay. I don't think if I was younger I would have taken any positive messages away from the viewing experience either; I probably would have been more focused on the genitalia jokes they make more than once (nobody is going to want to pay attention to the wholesome lessons when they can have a belly laugh about "sausages").
At its core, "Contest" is a movie about choices, repercussions, and ultimately forgiveness and friendship. I went into the movie with very few expectations in order to give it a fair chance, but I have to say I came out of "Contest" disappointed. I don't think I am the movie's target audience, but I don't see its target audience being mature enough to see, hear, and live the film's supposed message. "Contest" isn't the only film that romanticizes an imperfect world, but considering its subject matter, it should be focused on being as realistic as possible.
As always, I implore you to see the film for yourself and to voice your opinions, whether they be good or bad. So happy watching everybody, try to enjoy yourselves.