Amazon Update No. 11: “That’s What I Am”

June 25, 2015

Mr.Simon (Ed Harris) conducts a junior high school literature class.

Mr.Simon (Ed Harris) conducts a junior high school literature class.

The title of this movie originates in a conversation between a junior high school teacher, Mr. Simon, and a student, Andy Nichols, who is long on caution and short on self-confidence. Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) thinks the observant and analytical Andy has potential as a writer, and Andy (Chase Ellison), who has no grasp of spelling or grammar, thinks otherwise. Mr. Simon makes him promise to tell himself every day, “I am a writer. That’s what I am.”

The story, which is narrated in retrospect by Andy ala The Wonder Years, takes place in California in 1965. Andy, despite his linguistic challenges, is a solid student who likes to keep a low profile so as not to attract scorn, or worse, from kids who think more of themselves than the facts warrant. Mr. Simon, who keeps a close eye on the dynamics among his students, is creating teams to work on a term project, and he matches Andy with a tall, awkward kid named Stanley (Alexander Walters)–“Big G” for short–who is an outcast, the butt of ridicule and abuse from those in the main stream.

From left, ED HARRIS, ALEXANDER WALTERS, and CHASE ELLISON.

From left, ED HARRIS, ALEXANDER WALTERS, and CHASE ELLISON.

Andy is keenly aware of the potential consequences for him if he spends time in Stanley’s company, but he develops a kind of frustrated fascination with Stanley’s passive demeanor in the face of the treatment he receives from his peers. But when Stanley faces up to a habitual bully–on behalf of someone else, not himself–and volunteers for a school talent show (“I am a singer. That’s what I am”) regardless of the hilarity this will inspire in some quarters, Andy learns a few things about self-awareness and dignity.

Meanwhile, a perennial rumor among students about the sexuality of Mr. Simon–a widower–migrates to a group of parents and spins out of control, compromising Simon’s position at the school and that of his principal and mentor, played by Amy Madigan.

This movie, a product of WWE Studios, was released to only about ten theaters in 2011 and made a little over $6,000 in three days. The film offers nothing new in the way of themes, so it depends on the writing and the acting, both of which make it worth watching, especially for the cost an Amazon rental rather than box office prices. The subject matter is also relevant to the current preoccupation with bullying among teenagers. Although it tends toward the sentimental, the story is realistic in the sense that it does not suggest that there was a satisfactory outcome either to Mr. Simon’s predicament or to Stanley’s isolation.

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2 Responses to “Amazon Update No. 11: “That’s What I Am””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    It’s interesting how quickly memories of Mr. LeBlanc (7th grade social studies) and a certain pair of twins came to mind. Some stories are replayed consitently, generation unto generation.

    Mr. Simon’s encouragement of Andy as a writer brought something else to mind: a video of a poetry slam winner some years ago. I tucked it into my files early in my blogging career, and still enjoy it from time to time. Peter Nevland could have used Mr. Simon.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I love that Peter Nevland performance! I had the opposite experience. People were always telling me I could write, and my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Minor D. Merchant, told me I should consider a career in writing — before that ever occurred to me.

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