By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Growing up too fast.
Four teenagers living in the San Fernando Valley face life in the fast lane. Madge (Marilyn Kagan) is the nerd who’s having a fling with a 30-year-old man (Randy Quaid). Deidre (Kandice Stroh) shifts from boyfriend to boyfriend while Annie (Cherrie Currie) is tormented by an abusive father and runs away from home only to get caught up in the drug scene. Jeanie (Jodie Foster) is the mature one of the bunch who tries to keep them from getting into too much trouble as well as getting them out of a jam when needed, but she has struggles of her own particularly dealing with her mother (Sally Kellerman) who brings home men who are virtual strangers to spend the night with and seems as lost and confused as Jeanie’s teen friends.
This marked Adrian Lyne’s feature film debut and from a purely cinematic perspective it’s intriguing. I liked the cinema vertite feel and in many ways this is an early forerunner to Larry Clarke’s groundbreaking Kids that came out 15 years later as the camera follows the teens around on their excursions without having any connected storyline nor does it try to make any moral judgement on what occurs. Instead it plays more like docudrama showing how things are without overdoing the shock value, but what I liked best was the fact that it portrays the adults as being just as screwed up and in certain ways even more lost while society at large is captured as being equally jaded to the point that the teens are simply reflecting the behaviors of the environment around them.
Probably the most surprising aspect is the part dealing with Madge, who is still in high school, having an ongoing relationship with a 30-year-old man, which the film treats as being no big deal. It’s not completely clear if Madge is 17 or 18, but many of today’s viewers will find the casual way the film approaches this topic, which includes an eventual wedding between the two that is happily attended by her friends, as being ‘creepy’ and most likely a taboo storyline for any film made today.
The irony is that Madge ends up causing the most destruction in the relationship as Quaid’s character unwisely goes away on a business trip and allows her complete use of his place where she then decides to hold a party that gets expectedly out-of-control. It even includes a graphic fight breaking out that is portrayed quite brutally including having a girl hit and knocked down by another guy. This scene also features Laura Dern, in her first credited film role and wearing braces and glasses, as an awkward teen that crashes the place.
The casting of Foster and Scott Baio as her guy friend is interesting as the two had starred in quirky gangster comedy Bugsy Malone just 4 years earlier and the scene where the two have an ongoing conversation while walking around in a large, open junkyard is one of the best parts of the movie. Baio is initially fun as this geeky teen with limited social skills, but later on becomes this mini-hero on a skateboard that gets too cute and Hollywood-like. Foster on the other hand is solid and it’s interesting seeing her playing a more emotionally vulnerable character and even at one point breaking down and crying.
The film manages to have a few interesting scenes here and there, but it takes too long to build any momentum and it’s never as compelling as it would like to be. There are also a few too many moments where it defaults to the contrived clichés, which hurts its efforts at gritty realism.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: February 29, 1980
Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes
Director: Adrian Lyne
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Blu-ray
Like a slightly edgier After School Special with life lessons spelled out in capital letters.