THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


It all began with his no-good pig-stealing great, great-grandfather. At least that’s according to Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf)) as he describes the “curse” that was put on his family generations ago. Bad luck has followed the family through the years following the pig theft, and Stanley is just the latest recipient. Stanley is the main character in Holes, which is based on a best-selling young adult novel.

In addition to being saddled with a name that is spelled the same backward as it is forward, Stanley has been wrongly accused of stealing a pair of basketball sneakers from a charity auction. He is sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake – a youth detention center ironically named because it is in the middle of a barren desert. The supervisors at Camp Green Lake are pretty weird. Mr. Sir (John Voight) is the cranky, mean-tempered camp director who constantly intimidates the kids. Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson) is supposedly a touchy-feely counselor, but he has a casually veiled contempt for his charges. Worst of all is the Warden (Sigourney Weaver), a ruthless type who actually appears to enjoy roughing up these young offenders. Perhaps it is a sign of defiance that the kids give themselves nicknames like Barf Bag and Armpit.

Under the guise of “building character”, the camp’s residents are forced to go into the desert each day and dig a hole five feet deep and five feet in diameter. Stanley comes to suspect that there’s a hidden reason for digging the holes; he thinks the Warden is looking for something. The movie slowly gives us hints that he might be right. Extensive flashbacks recount the legend of “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow (Patricia Arquette), a school teacher-turned-outlaw whose calling card was a lipstick print left on the forehead of anyone she killed. Kate may have done some bad things, but she was a victim of tragedy as well, and her story explains not only Stanley’s family curse but also his current situation. With the help of friend Zero (Brenden Jefferson), Stanley attempts to right some of the cosmic wrongs that have enshrouded his family.

The first thing I noticed about Holes is that it’s uncommonly challenging for young audiences. In fact, despite the PG rating and the Disney moniker, I hesitate to call this a “family film.” This is not a movie that panders to youthful audiences. Like last fall’s underrated Tuck Everlasting, it presents thoughtful, complex issues for audiences of all ages to contemplate. Kids going in to the film may be surprised by how spiritual and profound some of the story’s themes are. Director Andrew Davis and screenwriter Louis Sachar (adapting his own novel) don’t water anything down; they assume kids will be sophisticated enough to think about these things. By daring to be intelligent, Holes works as a movie for anybody, regardless of whether or not you have children to take with you.

For example, the movie does take place at a youth detention camp. The kids are not your usual motley gang of lovable misfits. There is every implication that these kids have done some bad things. At the same time, it is the adults who are truly bad people. They enslave the children and exploit them. The story has hope that the delinquents will straighten themselves out. For the grownups, there is no such luck.

Furthermore, Holes evolves into an almost metaphysical tale by the end. Stanley learns that there is a greater scheme at work in the universe. Certain people are brought together not through coincidence but by predetermination. Once he figures this out, he is able to make the necessary corrections to bring about a karmic change. Centuries-old wrongs are righted and new futures are paved. Best of all, the movie conveys this idea without turning into some kind of kooky New Age sermon. Instead, the main ideas are that it’s never too late to change things, and one person can really make a difference. The story is inspirational in its belief that morality ultimately prevails in the world.

And that’s what Holes is in the end – a story of morality. All the performances are terrific, and the cinematography (showing a seemingly endless desert covered with 5x5 holes) is breathtaking. It is the message that counts, though. I have intentionally left out a lot of details about the film because the less you know, the more moved you will be. Personally, I love how smart and true and optimistic this movie is. Too many films geared toward young audiences are dumbed down, or worse. Here is a movie that has the potential to inspire them instead. Stanley Yelnats learns that even in the darkest of situations you can find not only a ray of hope, but also an opportunity for improvement. Holes is a wonderful and entertaining movie that deserves to find an audience of all ages.

( 1/2 out of four)

Holes is rated PG for violence, mild language and some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

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