It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
'Stateside" tells the story of a rich kid who joins the Marines to stay out of jail, and then finds himself in love with a famous actress and rock singer who is being treated for schizophrenia. Stated as plainly as that, the plot could have been imported from a soap opera, but the writer-director, Reverge Anselmo, assures us it is "based on a true story." Perhaps. Certainly he rotates it away from sensationalism, making it the story of an irresponsible kid who is transformed by boot camp and then becomes obsessed with what he sees as his duty to the actress.
The kid is named Mark (Jonathan Tucker). He goes to an upscale Catholic high school, drinks too much one night, and is driving a car that broadsides the car of their headmaster, Father Concoff (Ed Begley Jr). The priest is paralyzed from the waist down, but doesn't sue (he explains why, but so enigmatically it doesn't work). Mark's millionaire father (Joe Mantegna) pulls strings to have the charges dropped in exchange for Mark enlisting in the Marines.
Mark goes to Parris Island for basic training, under the command of a drill instructor named Skeer (Val Kilmer). Skeer doesn't like the rich kid and makes it hard on him; the kid puts his head down and charges through, emerging at the end of the ordeal as what Skeer, if not all of the rest of us, would consider a success.
Home on leave before more training, he visits his girlfriend. That would be Sue (Agnes Bruckner), who lost her front teeth in the crash but lost her freedom after her mother (Carrie Fisher) found some sexually explicit letters she wrote. The letters are obviously evidence of madness, so she's institutionalized, in the Connecticut version of "The Magdalene Sisters." When Mark visits her, he meets her roommate Dori (Rachael Leigh Cook), and they fall in love.