May 1, 2003

Curse of the Yelnats

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Picture this: a group of convicts in orange prison uniforms, working in the hot sun, digging holes in the desert, while a guy with a shotgun walks around, making sure that no one gets out of line. Now picture those convicts as kids, roughly fifteen years of age, and you’ll have an idea of the opening scene of Holes.

Based on the extremely popular children’s book, Holes is the story of Stanley Yelnats IV, an unfortunate kid who doesn’t seem to have any luck at all, a rather common trait in his family. Apparently (so the family story goes) Stanley’s no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great great grandfather got a curse put on the family by a crazy Latvian gypsy woman, back in the old country. Sure enough, it seems that Stanley’s luck is a bit worse for the wear: while he’s walking home from school one day, a pair of shoes falls on him from the top of an overpass. The shoes smell very bad, so Stanley decides to bring them home to his dad, an inventor working on a cure for smelly shoes. Before he has a chance to do so, the cops arrest poor Stanley, and he’s convicted in a juvenile court. Soon he’s on his way to camp Green Lake, where there’s no lake, nothing’s green, and Stanley is forced to dig 5×5 holes in the ground, in the desert, to build his character.

Threaded throughout the story of Stanley’s stay at camp Green Lake are the stories of the three preceding Stanley Yelnats’s, female desperado Kissing Kate Barlow, and the camp warden’s family, the Walkers. It’s an intriguing premise, layering the different time periods over one another, especially in a children’s movie. There were also quite a few controversial and adult themes in the movie, such as racism, death, and so forth. Holes makes good use of the side stories, weaving them into a composite and understandable whole, bringing the viewer along for the ride. This style also creates a great air of mystery, as you wonder: what the heck is going on, who are these people in this flashback, and what do they have to do with poor Stanley?

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jon Voight as Mr. Sir, a totally incompetent bad guy, er, camp counselor. He goes completely over the top as a crazy Texan wearing jeans that are just a little too tight for everyone’s comfort. Sigourney Weaver also shines as the camp warden, looking even more manish than when I saw her last. The actors portraying Stanley’s fellow inmates at camp Green Lake are all great, a real gritty bunch of kids, all of whom have cool nicknames. Makes me wish I had a cool nickname. But I digress.

Sadly, I myself have not read the book on which this movie is based, but it is supposed to be very good. Somehow I doubt that this movie lived up to the book, as that sort of thing just never happens. I do, however, feel that this is a movie with which Louis Sachar could feel comfortable being associated. Take your little sister or brother or cousin or what have you to this when you get home, they’ll enjoy it. Heck, you might even spread some literacy by suggesting to the kid that they check out the book too, if they haven’t already. Too bad someone has it out of Uris right now, I really wanted to read it. Damn.

Archived article by Sue Karp