Jun 21, 2013

How to Eat Fried Worms: They Tease You Because They Like You

When I was bullied as a kid, my parents said "They tease you because they like you."  I was quite aware of the difference between good-natured teasing and savage taunts, but still, it is sometimes useful to try to understand the motives of the bully.  Sometimes it's pure evil, an attempt to destroy someone who he deems inadequately human.  But sometimes there is pain behind the hate, a sense of personal inadequacy.

How to Eat Fried Worms (2006), based on the novel by Thomas Rockwell, puts 11-year old Billy (Luke Benward, left, later photo) in a new school, where he becomes the target of bully Joe Guire (Adam Hicks) and his cronies.  Eventually Billy agrees to a contest: he must eat ten worms in one day without throwing up.  The "loser" has to come to school with the remaining worms in his pants.

Billy succeeds in eating most of the worms, causing Joe's cronies to defect to his side, leaving Joe humiliated and alone.  Then we discover that Joe himself is a victim, savagely bullied by his older brother Nigel.  Billy and his new gang defend Joe from Nigel, and they all become friends.

One of the worms didn't get eaten -- it was accidentally put into an omelet that another character ate.  So they both technically lost the contest.  The last scene shows Billy and Joe both entering the school with worms in their pants, their arms around each other, now friends.

It's a slight movie, mostly devoted to the various gross ways that worms can be prepared -- covered with liver juice or hot sauce, squished and spread on a sandwich.  But three things create a memorable gay subtext:

1. Adam Hicks (left, later photo)  plays Joe as a wounded, almost a tragic figure, who is attracted to Billy but doesn't know how to go about expressing his interest.  "They tease you because they like you."
2. Neither display any heterosexual interests.  Billy makes friends with a girl.
3. Joe and Billy smile at each other, one of those smiles that stays with you forever, like Sean and Rich (Kurt Russell, Patrick Dawson) in The Secret of Boyne Castle.  

Adam went on to the equally memorable gay-subtext series Zeke and Luther (2009-2012) and Pair of Kings (2012-2013) on the Disney Channel.

Luke Benward, not so much: his characters win The Girl of Their Dreams in Mostly Ghostly (2008) and Girl vs. Monster (2012).

See also: Alexander Gould of Weeds.

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