Dir. Clay Liford
Styles: revenge, dark comedy
Others: Half Nelson, World’s Greatest Dad, Earthling
Links: Wuss - Well Tailored Films
I’m going to cut to the chase. More than anything, Wuss reminded me of a waking nightmare and evoked some false memories of adolescent victimization. This discomfiting tone is undoubtedly it’s raison d’être. Wuss belongs to that family of films made exclusively for those who appreciate some masochism with their comedy. To that end, it accomplishes its aim, which is to make you feel terrible for the titular wuss and either regret your past bullying or relive that traumatizing horror. But there probably wasn’t anything funny or redemptive about that.
Marking the third directorial effort of Clay Liford, a veteran editor and cinematographer of unseen festival fare, Wuss is a spin off of the classic high school revenge story. In this case, the victim is Mitch (Nate Rubin), a diminutive new English teacher at his alma mater. What was once a typical suburban school has become an educational cesspool, and Mitch ignorantly believes he can control a class full of delinquents. When an aspiring drug dealer (Ryan Anderson as Re-up) insults his manhood, he tries to lay down the law, and the retaliation commences. The abuse Mitch takes is punishing, and his only recourse comes in the form of his dangerously attractive student Maddie (Alicia Anthony), an outcast known for smoking discarded cigarette butts. Despite the glaring potential for statutory mistakes, he lets her get close to end the torment.
Although Mitch is socially inept and a target of ridicule, he doesn’t seem like he deserves such deplorable attention. Rubin acts with a jittery edge that gives the character a fitting measure of complexity. Mitch still plays Dungeons & Dragons and lives at home, but he also packs bongloads with his troop of rejects. He clearly has a clever sense of humor, yet he has to compulsively lie to communicate with people his own age. It’s as though he knows he is being weeded out of the gene pool and these fabrications are his last line of defense. Which begs the question: Is Maddie taking pity on him, or does she feel a kinship? Maybe she knows she’s baiting him, because she definitely knows what she is doing.
Wuss could have easily been one long, uncomfortable episode, but the tension is undercut by the formidable supporting cast. In yet another pitch-perfect performance, Alex Karpovsky brings his biting wit as a vice principal who wants to orchestrate a drug bust to further his career. He has most of the choice lines as usual, belittling Mitch without remorse, and without his insertion into a minor subplot, it would be entirely excruciating. This has unquestionably been his year, and Liford was wise to bring him on. Tony Hale (commonly known as Buster from Arrested Development) is the other trump — a band teacher who wants to be a guidance counselor and comes off as a secret pervert. Together, they turn this queasy trip into a respectable diversion.