By Thomas White.
Gutterbug is the story of Steven Bugsby, known as ‘Bug’, a young runaway living on the streets. Together with his misfit punk friends, he decides on his twenty first birthday to return home, a quest that will ultimately lead to a catastrophic and life changing conclusion.
The film opens with a scene of frantic confusion, in the immediate aftermath of a serious car collision, a distressed emergency services voiceover and a medical resuscitation in transit. Like the adrenaline shot administered in the back of a claustrophobic ambulance, we are immediately injected into Bug’s turbulent, messy, sordid world, a turgid soup of blood, sweat, grime and chemical substances.
A large reason for this film’s promising reception is, I suspect, down to the gamut of themes and societal issues it tackles, thus targeting a wider audience. Rebellion, drug abuse, homelessness, family dysfunction, toxic relationships and violent crime are all on the agenda here, simmering away until eventually reaching boiling point.
While remaining appropriately raw and gritty in tone, director Andrew Gibson gives the film less of a bleak, fatalistic outlook and more of freewheeling, vivacious spirit, keeping the disenchanted nihilism balanced with moments of lightness and the exuberance of freedom.
This is less Requiem for a Dream, but closer to films like The Basketball Diaries, with a protagonist we can feel justified in rooting for, a lost soul who has turned down a road and been sucked into a world they never really belonged to. The feeling of the central characters is that of ‘us against the world’, a certain innocence endearing us to their vivacious unity, a tribe of outlaws keeping each other afloat whilst battling their own demons.
For all their narcissistic, remorseless qualities, they are not so despicably vile or contemptible that we don’t enjoy spending time in their company. The self-absorption comes with a zestful, youthful spark of life.
Andrew Yackel, who plays Bug, brings both a troubled and thoughtful side to the role. In the scenes where he is alone we see a reflective, almost regretful side to his character, a side not shown in his two cohorts, the caring but self-serving Jenny, played by Hannah Mosqueda, and the rather more garrulous Slim, played with erratic relish by Justin Pietropaolo. There is little compassion elsewhere, save for the collective day to day interactions of those living on the fringes of society.
Gutterbug puts us through the wringer as we follow through the trajectory of Bug’s journey, an exhausting and exhilarating barrage of character defining moments and life altering events. Eventually brought to face his own mortality, he comes to realise he must first acknowledge his former delinquencies and wrongdoings in order to find redemption. If you like loose ends that tie up neatly then rest assured, you will be rewarded with closure from each of the narrative strands, the lack of ambiguity sparing us any dissatisfaction in that sense, if at the expense of its final veering towards sentimentality.
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