55: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (2007)
DIR: Gabor Csupo
Who would have thought it; a film directed by the creator of Rugrats on my Top 100 list. I wouldn't have, that's for sure.
Bridge to Terabithia was mis-sold in the most catastrophic manner possible. It was promoted as being like The Chronicles of Narnia films for the spurious reason that the same company (not the same director but the same bloody executives) made it. It's nothing like Narnia. Okay, yes, there's a magical world - the titular Terabithia - but the film's not about that, at its heart this is a film about friendship.
The main characters are 11 year olds Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (Annasophia Robb). Both are misfits at school; Jess because he's more interested in drawing than anything else, and Leslie because she's new, smart, and her family don't have a TV. Jess draws, and Leslie likes to write stories, so naturally the two soon strike up a friendship, and together, in the woods behind their houses, they play, inventing a kingdom called Terabithia, where they can reinterpret all the things they don't like about school and home, and have control over them.
There are many reasons I love this film, but perhaps the most personal is that this feels like a film that captures childhood - at least mine - perfectly. Childhood is a time of possibility and wonder, a time when you can defeat the school by turning him into an imaginary monster, a time when the woods behind your house and you rather slapdash treehouse can be a fortress overlooking your kingdom, and a time when being friends with girls really isn't that complicated... for a while. Without being mawkish the film explores this burgeoning relationship, as well as Jess and Leslie's home lives in a way that feels very genuine.
This can be largely attributed to the performances of Josh Hutcherson and Annasophia Robb. Hutcherson has been an impressive talent since, aged 10, he played a kid dealing with his first crush in Little Manhattan. The role of Jess isn't a showy one, he's a pretty normal kid; he likes art, is annoyed by his sisters (especially his uber-cute little sister played by Bailee Madison), hangs out with the girl next door and has a crush on his teacher (played, in a less realistic touch, by Zooey Deschanel). Jess could be pretty dull, but Hutcherson plays him as a very real and pretty complex kid. There's nothing actorly about his performance, which means that you buy it when, later in the film, he has to dig deeper and find some pretty raw emotional places. For her part, Annasophia Robb makes Leslie pretty irresistible, the girl you wish had lived next door when you were 11; smart, creative, fun and pretty. You believe them both, and more importantly you believe their friendship.
This belief in the main characters becomes vital when the film takes a truly shocking turn with half an hour to go. I saw this film when I was 27, and that twist felt like someone reaching into my chest, removing my heart and stomping on it, I can only imagine what it would have done to me when I was 11. I'd like to say more, but I won't, because I don't want to spoil the film.
Gabor Csupo proves adept at the fantasy world but, perhaps surprisingly, it's the real world scenes that he really makes stick, with a controlled, sedate, directorial style. As well as the kids he gets strong performances Deschanel and from Robert Patrick as Jess' Father.
What I really love about Bridge to Terabithia is that it's a kids movie that deals with difficult truths and challenging emotions, in a way that is accessible to children but doesn't talk down to them, and that it engages with ideas prompted by those themes without becoming preachy. It's a beautiful film, and it's a shame that a unrepresentative ad campaign led to so many people either not seeing it or being disappointed when they did.
I'm leaving out the Standout Scenes and Memorable Lines sections due to spoilers.