Movie Review: Gutterbug (2020)

Bug is a homeless junkie whose life has no meaning, until he meets a girl the day of his 21st birthday when he also decides to find his way home.

Directed by: Andrew Gibson.

Starring: Andrew Yackel, Hannah Mosqueda, Justin Pietropaolo, Paul Kandarian, Mary Hronicek, Geoff van Wyck, Leigh Lanocha, Nicholas Deveau, Christopher Faulkner, Javier Fernandez, Sarah Greenwell, Alexander Aronson, Pete Bayko.

Country: United States

Genre: Drama.

Running time: 101 minutes.

Stories are not supposed to start in a descending direction. We are used to a more traditional style of character presentation, and usually someone discovers, creates, and even begins, but always going up. Some movies are supposed to make us hopeful, and those that aren’t, declare themselves from the beginning.

In Gutterbug, we start at the lowest step of a rudder. And there’s no direction to go but down, towards a dark level of conscience. A downward spiral of termination, selfharm and hopelessness. The very definition of the phrase “Is there light at the end?” regards expectation, but this time the light could represent an encounter with salvation or death itself. The randomness of shattered aspirations.

The opening represents a disaster. A car crash with bloodied and desperate victims. In a hospital room, a young man is handcuffed to the bed, and with the pain medications, comes a flashback that will somehow clarify how this came to be. Stephen “Bug” Bugsby lives on the streets. We don’t know his background. His most apparent trait is being rageful all the time. He finds peace in punk music and drugs provided by friends. The day he decides to “off himself”, Bug meets Jenny in a punk concert. His suicide intentions are put aside as Bug has a contact with love, existential dilemmas, and the profound need to go home.

In its first half, Gutterbug sustains its theme through a power performance by Andrew Yackel as Bug. The young actor thrives in his portrayal of violent solitude and lack of remorse for himself. We’ve seen these kind of performances before, but Yackel’s entry is solid, honest, and relentless. Even when scavenging for food, he kicks the trash deposits. He swears at normality, the passing cars that don’t even provide change for him. His companions are no less, as the depiction of the underground punk scene is exceptionally executed in Gutterbug. It’s hard to believe these young people are not survivors of the epicenter of Boston’s punk culture.

But there’s a turn in Gutterbug that transports us to a more visceral execution of reactions. At first, Bug talks to himself and is clearly aware of what he’s become. He hates it. He doesn’t recognize the new him. He’s the typical junkie we are afraid of when we find him on the street. But then Bug becomes a victim of the stage he’s created and can’t get out of. The movie never justifies his criminal acts, and takes it all the way down to a finale we definitely expect. But this is the reality the movie provides. It’s a raw presentation of fiction, one that carries enough freedom to give a beautiful closure to a character that maybe has not deserved it.

Gutterbug puts us at the edge of an underground level of reality we don’t know, and most importantly, don’t recognize. We know drug addiction is a disease, but maybe we’ve seen it comfortably from our living room and criticized it for what it is; maybe we scrutinize without identifying the true danger from the true victims. Gutterbug puts us right there, at the center of a conversation between three young people who find a body, and instead of calling the police, they start analyzing who it is. Maybe they’re just trying to deny the fact that this could be any of them. Just another lost kid in the street who lost the war to drugs.

Star rating: ***

A trailer

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