I would be willing to bet right now that no other reviewer in the country is as “in the dark” about this movie than me. Not having HBO has put me at a disadvantage in way, in that Project Greenlight (the show that discovered screenwriter Erica Beeney and Directors Efrom Potelle and Kyle Rankin) chronicled nearly every aspect of the film’s production. But, there is something to be said about going into a movie completely clueless, which was the case with The Battle of Shaker Heights.
Kelly Ernswiler (LaBeouf) is your not-so-typical high school student. He has a never-ending fascination with war and battle, and even participates in war reenactments that take place in his hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio. As a side job, Kelly works at the local grocery store, where a fellow co-worker (Shiri Appleby) is attracted to him, but Kelly does not feel the same way.
Instead, Kelly has a huge crush on his friend, Bart’s (Henson) sister, Tabby (Smart). Tabby is engaged, but that does not stop Kelly. Love is war, huh?
The story also follows Kelly home, where he has a very disjointed family life. His mother (Quinlan) is so caught up in painting that she does not pay attention to anything else, and his father (William Sadler) spends every waking moment caring for homeless people by giving away the family’s food.
There is also a subplot involving the school bully. I know I know…been there done that. But, the way in which Kelly and friends exact revenge is truly priceless.
The Battle of Shaker Heights is mainly another coming-of-age love story. We get several of those every year, but I can tell you right now that I have never seen one that has the sense of charm that this film does. Most of the film’s appeal can be credited to Shia LaBeouf as Kelly. He gives off a certain confidence in every frame he is in. He is very quick-witted, but can also be as shy as can be. The movie really is his story, and that is what sets it apart from other stock teen melodrama.
The supporting characters are also all perfectly cast and very believable. Through them, we quickly learn how disjointed and oftentimes confusing Kelly’s life is. He simple wants a girl who will put up with all his fascinations, yet still like him for the eccentric character that he is. Isn’t that what we all want?
As I mentioned above, this film was a product of the Project Greenlight show on HBO. While I have never seen the show or Stolen Summer, the first film that emerged from Project Greenlight, I can say that I now have increased interest in viewing the episodes about the making of this movie. It is already no secret that Shaker Heights has gone through several cuts and incarnations. Screenwriter Erica Beeney was onhand at the showing I attended, and she stated that she is most happy with the version that is now open in New York and Los Angeles.
When all is said and done, The Battle of Shaker Heights is without a doubt an above-average teen film. It was most definitely appeal to adults because of its universal humor and charm. Currently the film is in limited release, but I sincerely hope it gets a broader release as the weeks go by. This is a film that I highly recommend, and is the perfect diversion from the brainless summer fare that is currently plaguing theaters.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for language and some drug references.
Theatrical Release: August 22, 2003 (Limited)
Directed by: Efram Potelle & Kyle Rank
Written by: Erica Beeney
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Elden Henson, Amy Smart, Billy Kay, Kathleen Quinlan, Shiri Appleby