By Don Simpson | January 24, 2013
Director: Matthew Johnson
Writers: Matthew Johnson, Matthew Miller, Evan Morgan, Josh Boles
Starring: Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams, Krista Madison, Brandon Wickens, Jay McCarrol, Josh Boles, Shailene Garnett, Alen Delain, Paul Daniel Ayotte
Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are two high school kids making a movie about two high school kids making a movie about two high school kids making a movie… Wait. Are there two levels of reality or three? I get dizzy just thinking about it, so for now I will just stick with three…or two. Anyways…
The movie that Matt and Owen are making is precisely what we might expect from high school boys nowadays. The dialogue is riddled with profanity and — like most of the YouTube generation — they have a bloody fascination with bodily injuries. As if the characters within the film cannot think of anything original to say, their dialogue is chock full of cinematic quotations and references (appropriately enough, several chunks of Quentin Tarantino dialogue is cleverly re-appropriated). Oh, and the production value is low enough to deter some viewers…but they do use wireless mics!
The film within a film, which is also titled The Dirties, is about confronting bullies in a fictional universe. Matt and Owen are constantly bullied by a high school gang called “The Dirties,” and their film is a way of enacting revenge upon them. If anything, this project serves as a therapeutic release for Matt and Owen as they can fulfill their wildest and most violent fantasies.
If we take a step back for a minute to observe the outer layer of the film, Matt and Owen are in the midst of a creative turmoil. They are both frustrated with dealing with bullies in real life; Owen wants to hijack the film and add a higher level of authenticity to the production; and Matt becomes distracted by a long-term crush who might finally acknowledge his presence. This is the brutally honest layer of the onion in which the dialogue and on-screen events are devastatingly real. Though we know as viewers that even this layer of the film is staged, it all feels like a documentary, and not just because of the cleverly clandestine camerawork. Matt and Owen might be goofballs in the film within the film, but Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams are admirably able to turn on their acting chops for the real stuff.
Sure, Matthew Johnson’s The Dirties is a film about bullying and violence but it is also about cinematic violence and the possible correlation between cinematic violence and real life violence, especially when fiction and reality become blurred in one’s mind. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, The Dirties commences a thoughtful dialogue about gun violence in schools. But, The Dirties is first and foremost about Johnson’s unabashed love of cinema. He reveals a unique playfulness in the way he toys with a variety of cinematic tropes and conventions. The Dirties plays like a post modern visual essay about self-reflexivity, as we are constantly made aware that a film is being made on each level of this cinematic onion.