Nick and Christina seem to be the perfect couple until Christina is outed for sleeping around with her ex, Mike Santo. Mike is a hulk of a man, perhaps a bit older than the circle of friends he runs with; he’s also downright mean and enjoys a reputation for beating to a pulp anyone that gets in his way. But Nick isn’t going to let Mike’s reputation stop him from proving to Christina who the real man in town is. Nick calls Mike and delivers an insult that is calculated to bring Mike into a mouth-frothing rage. While Nick’s plan doesn’t involve getting back with Christina, it does involve seeking some revenge from the guy who stole his girl while proving to Christina–and the entire town–that he is also a force to be reckoned with. So with a short and highly insulting phone call to Mike, Nick sets in motion the evening’s events, for which You’ll Know My Name tells.
Written and directed by first-time director Joe Raffa, You’ll Know My Name comes across as an authentic slice of Jersey teen angst and boredom. Perhaps a bit disenfranchised and definitely bored by their middle-class backgrounds, these teens and early twenty-something’s (Raffa himself is actually 21) have developed a loose "Fight Club" style group in which members challenge each other to see who can deliver the worst beating. Mike Santo has quickly become legendary in this loose circuit of fights. Filled with false bravado, fueled by misguided romantic notions created by the media (how many Fight Club-type films and real-life YouTube beat downs have these young men watched?), and basically ignored by their parents, these groups of boys fill their time playing loud-mouthed gangsters and thugs. Many people in town might dismiss these boys as just a bunch of young punks from the ‘Hood, but watch closely and what the viewer might notice is that many of these kids actually come from upper middle-class homes, complete with all the suburban trappings: nice cars, well-manicured lawns, in-ground pools, and absentee parents who have no idea what their kids are doing because they are too busy working long hours and trying to "keep up with the Joneses". Raffa has certainly infused his film with some subtle and incisive commentary about the middle class.
Raffa also stars as Nick, the spurned lover who wants revenge on the legendary tough guy. He does a nice job of filling his character with bigger-than-life bravado and louder than necessary talk, all the while quietly admitting to his closest friends that he’s a bit nervous. But the humiliation he feels for losing his girl to who he views as a low-life punk spurs his anger on, and he’s not going to back down. He wants this fight to be one for the ages. He wants to walk away knowing that everyone will know his name. Alexander Mandell co-stars as Mike Santo, a mean-spirited brute of a boy locked into a man’s body. He comes from the other side of the tracks, so instead of hanging out drinking sodas in the backyard pool, he spends time shooting pool in the local dive with dope-pushers and hangers-on that want to be associated with the local tough guy. He enjoys his reputation and has fun pushing around his acolytes, generally making them all miserable. Mianna Saxton stars as the beautiful blonde cheerleader type, face perfectly airbrushed and no hair out of place. She, too, is upper middle-class, but as is typical for many teen girls, they are inexplicably drawn to the more dangerous boys, so even though she has convinced herself that she loves Nick, she can’t fight the temptation of Mike Santo’s Bad Boy image.
For this one-time public school teacher turned reviewer, Raffa’s characters seem totally authentic. While not discounting Raffa’s writing prowess, perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that he isn’t long out of high school himself; regardless, he fills the film with deadly accurate characters found in every high school in the land: bored, middle class kids who flirt with crime because it’s the only rush in their lives; pretty girls who flirt with low-life punks because that’s the only rush in their lives; and the stereotypical punks themselves, who relish their image as well as the fact that they seem to be magnets for girls of higher class than they are. But the characters aren’t the only thing that is realistic in the film. The dialogue smacks of accuracy as well: witness Christina who tries to whiningly convince Nick of her undying love even as she admits she’s sleeping around; Mike Santo’s bullying threats; and even Nick’s loud-mouthed claims. These are all characters and conversations that are played out in the halls of high schools across America every single day. The acting is generally very good across the board and the storyline is entertaining. There is also a decided flavor to parts of the musical score, reminding this reviewer of classic Westerns. In fact, the climactic fight between Nick and Mike can be viewed as somewhat of a duel, just in the deserted parking lot of an anonymous Jersey ‘burb instead of the American West.
I was entertained by You’ll Know My Name and appreciated the timely undercurrent of commentary of Joe Raffa’s freshman effort. After a successful 2011 festival run, You’ll Know My Name has been picked up by Breaking Glass Pictures and is being released May 29 on DVD everywhere. For more information, check out BGP’s website at www.breakingglasspictures.com.