Being a teenager is tough, even on the best of days. But if you are a juvenile delinquent and have been sent to St. Sebastian’s Quiet Academy for Disreputable Youth, life can be even tougher. On his first night at St. Sebastian’s, Isaac is hazed, setting in motion a pattern of abuse and bullying that goes on for weeks. This bullying causes Isaac to try to escape, but each attempt is thwarted. As the bullying continues, Isaac hatches a last-ditch effort to escape St. Sebastian’s during the annual Christmas dance.
Created as a senior thesis, Trouble is a 12-minute short written and directed by Daniel Witkin. It is equal parts comedy and drama. There is nothing funny about being bullied, and Witkin films these more dramatic sequences with authenticity. The bully, Greg, is slightly taller and more muscular than Isaac and never lets Isaac rest. He turns off Isaac’s music while Isaac is working, beats him up, and regularly offers more of the same whenever there’s a chance to beat on him. Isaac has taken to sleeping in the library so he isn’t tortured every night. Anyone who has ever been through high school will recognize the relationship between Greg and Isaac–we all knew a Greg and an Isaac in school, and perhaps some of us even played one of those roles during our teen years. Bennett Kirschner as Isaac and Max Carpenter as Greg are both solid in their starring roles.
But Witkin also lightens the tone of the film with some gentle comedic scenes as well, most notably with Timothy Cox as the headmaster of St. Sebastian’s. The headmaster fancies himself a thespian and writes scenarios for the boys to read in class:
"I am from a troubled demographic…I sometimes entertain dark thoughts."
"You sound like you need relief."
"Tell me about it!"
"I’m going to go drink Schnapps and then I intend to relieve my sexual urges."
"That is not an appropriate way to deal with my problems."
The two boys, Isaac and Greg, are hilarious as they read the lines as woodenly as any two teenage boys probably would. Cox pompously stands by urging them on through the humiliating wordplay.
Another funny scene portrays all the boys dancing in the school gym as David Bowie’s "Let’s Dance" pours forth through the sound system. The boys’ contortions and gyrations are hilarious to watch in the foreground even as Isaac silently sets his plan into motion in the background.
But in the end, Isaac gets the last laugh–both literally and figuratively–as his plan works perfectly. The school administrators will shake their heads and purse their lips while the bullies will think they have successfully run the new kid off. But just as Isaac told the school nurse with absolute certainty, "I’m not like the other kids," he knows that ultimately he has triumphed over the school as well as the bullies.
Trouble is smart and funny, and very enjoyable. Daniel Witkin has created a very solid film debut. Trouble has not been released to public yet, but if you get a chance to see it in the near future, it comes recommended.