Steal Me started off on shaky ground but then thankfully steadied itself to ultimately tell it’s own story. I am not a big fan of music videos and sadly, a lot of the camera angles and imagery used throughout the film seems to employ this. While it wasn’t as noticeable as the film wore on, at first I found myself very put off by these devices. As I said, eventually the movie seemed to find it’s groove and in doing was able to show interesting portraits of almost every character on the screen. This includes even smaller characters who may or may not say much. Melissa Painter, the director, seems a compatriot of Francis Ford Coppola in how she uses sound. There would be conversations of characters just staring at each other, yet you could hear their conversation laid over this. In my opinion, this only served to drive the story and underscore the psyche of the main characters.
This movie tells the tale of Jake (Danny Alexander), a 15 year old boy who cannot help but steal things. While stealing the car radio of Tucker (Hunter Parrish), these two boys somehow become friends and Jake ends up living with Tucker’s family despite full knowledge that he’s a thief. Even though he cares for this family life (he has been abandoned by his mom), Jake cannot help but steal little things from his surrogate family’s house. He even starts having a sexual relationship with Tuckers mother’s friend, Grace. At one point Jake even hits on Tucker’s mom but his attempt is quickly thwarted. Eventually, things boil over when Tucker’s parents realize Jake has been stealing from them, and some other kids trick Jake into breaking into a neighborhood house.
While at times I had some problems understanding what Jake was saying (Danny Alexander, while a very solid actor, is a bit nasally), and I didn’t care for the camera style, overall, I think that Steal Me is a very well done film. It captures so many different characters at so many phases of life, and I loved how it didn’t sentimentalize them. It just presented these as characters for who they were. The good, the bad, the ugly and everything else you may think about them. The standouts in this cast are Danny Alexander, Hunter Parrish and Cara Seymour and John Terry who play the mother and father.
I also love the use of colors in this movie. How we see events from the past and present and things are just slightly tweaked so we can orient ourselves as viewers. While music video-type imagery and choppy editing dominated the first part of this film, by the time Steal Me allows itself to settle, you really get a strong character study. There were so many times that I thought Tucker and Jake were going to come to blows over Lily Rose (Paz de la Huerta, and the girl Tucker loves), yet one can see that Jake really cares for Tucker and that he’s trying to help him. Also, we come to realize just how damaged Jake is when we see his life contrasted with Tucker’s. This isn’t some simple tale of a boy entering the lives of a family and then taking over. Jake is a seriously messed up individual. Someone who since birth has never really been loved or wanted. And sadly, Jake knows this.
Melissa Painter is a director who seems like she’s on the verge of something big. I say this because this isn’t her first film, and one quick glance at IMDB and we can see that she’s made her bones in the indy world. It only seems like a matter of time until she gets the notice she deserves and ends up breaking through to studio films. The interesting thing would be to see what she does when she gets there, or even more interesting would be seeing what she does if she remains making films on a lower budget level. She is obviously someone who knows how to make a movie and, despite the early missteps of this film, can really create character portraits in the subtlest of ways. This is a gift and one she uses very well.
Steal Me is film about teens and one that should be seen by today’s youth market. Sadly, it seems like some people might see this movie as too “arty” and not give it the chance it deserves. It really makes a statement about youth, parenthood, dreams and getting older. In fact, the ending of this movie, the very last line hits you like fist in the gut. Is it because of how it’s delivered? The matter-of-fact nature? Or is because we can all see a little bit of ourselves in this movie? And that might be the hardest hitting thing of all.