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DIFF 2011: WUSS is More Than a Sadsack Anthem

Nate Rubin

This DALLAS International Film Festival review originally published on Gordon and the Whale

Rating: 3/5

I’ll be honest, sad sack main characters tend to rub me the wrong way. I get easily frustrated with their lack of decision-making abilities, self-victimization, and general lameness. It’s hard to relate to, or more importantly like, these characters when they dwell so long in self-centeredness. And it’s even harder for a writer to create a sympathetic main character who embodies these traits. However, despite my general malaise toward these guys and gals, I was pleasantly surprised by how amiable Mitch (Nate Rubin) was in director Clay Liford’s third feature film, WUSS.

Mitch is a going-nowhere substitute teacher who still plays D&D with his high school friends and hasn’t left his home town of Garland, Texas for longer than the four years it took to finish school. He lives at his home with his single mother and his bitter older sister, who too hasn’t made much with her adult life. It’s established right off the bat this guy has comfort zone issues. He takes a job substituting at the high school from where he graduated and quickly finds himself in over his head. On his first day he encounters sixteen-year-old thug Re-up (Ryan Anderson) and Maddie (Alicia Anthony), two students with whom Mitch really shouldn’t get involved. Re-up is an aggressor many have already written off, and Maddie is a sexually tempting and liberating figure Mitch should avoid. Although Mitch sets out to establish authority and teach these kids, he is no Michelle Pfeiffer and WUSS is no DANGEROUS MINDS. This film is less about the warm fuzzies of inner city teaching and more about one man’s self-destruction.

WUSS starts off strong, but when it becomes clear halfway through the film all the characters are completely irredeemable, the film suffers. Liford’s trademark dark, chatty dark humor is prevalent throughout, but the film eventually takes such a twisted turn that it is incredibly difficult to step away and find enjoyment in the characters’ journey. The acting is strong, elevating the film when the script cannot, and Rubin delicately balances out the pathetic nature of Mitch with his own on screen sweetness. He effortlessly dives into the awkward man-boy niche Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg carved out. Rubin is the heart this dark, dialogue heavy film needs. Mitch represents an entire generation of boomerang kids who suffer from extreme arrested development and cannot seem to pull themselves out from the ditches their parents’ dug. Liford’s best choice was casting Rubin to make this guy likable.

The film’s abrupt, jarring ending will leave many dissatisfied, but the ride until those final moments is worth it. Unconsciously, WUSS allows us to relish in the fact that we are not Mitch—unless, of course, you are. Then in that case, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your life decisions.

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