Director and documentarian Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) offers up a real-life FUBAR story that is anything but funny. Stevie Fielding is more than just a documentary subject for James, who once was Stevie’s Big Brother. James revisits him ten years since they parted, only to find a troubled adult who has turned into what many would consider a monster. As James re-enters Stevie’s life, he offers countless reflections on his own guilt. Like many of his other interview subjects, James eventually had to choose between living his own life or helping an abused boy who clearly needed a guiding family figure. Given Stevie’s own family is mired in dysfunction – his step-grandmother and mother have both used him as a pawn in vengeful games against one another – it’s not surprising that he’s turned into a bitter man who trusts no one. When Stevie is arrested on a child molestation charge, James’ worst fears come true. The remainder of this documentary focuses on the numerous attempts people make to get him help and keep him out of jail.
As the film progresses, James taps into crucial modern-day issues – the eroding American family, ineffective social programs and the grim socio-economic state of rural America – to reveal how all have played a contributing factor in shaping Stevie. It’s also difficult to watch the adult Stevie shut the windows of opportunity that are presented to him. This film offers no neat resolutions or answers, only a trail of what-if questions and the director’s determination to maintain hope for his Little Brother. It’s worth noting that two interview subjects – Stevie’s girlfriend Tonya and her best friend – offer some of the most hopeful and insightful comments, even though both are developmentally and/or physically “challenged”. By the end, James’ own misty eyes reveal his uncertainty with doing this film. It’s to our benefit that he has. Stevie is a brave work, with a deeply personal touch that few documentaries ever achieve.